Hugs and tears followed Judge Anne Wallace’s decision Thursday in the Salmon Arm Law Courts.
The provincial court judge acquitted Salmon Arm police officer Micah Chan of a charge of dangerous driving.
Intense emotion in the courtroom was evident on the faces of the police officers present as well as Helen and Ian Eggen, parents of Courtney.
Just before midnight on June 20, 2013, a white Chevrolet Cavalier driven by 21-year-old Courtney Eggen of Cherryville crashed into a parked dump truck in the Salmon Arm industrial park, killing her. Shortly after, a police cruiser driven by Const. Chan went off the road nearby, sliding backwards down an embankment. Chan was charged in December 2013 following an investigation by the police Independent Investigations Office, a civilian-led body that conducts investigations into police-involved incidents that result in death or serious harm.
Ian Eggen, who shook hands with Chan at the courthouse, said following the ruling that he and his spouse don’t blame Chan for their daughter’s death and they appreciated the judge’s in-depth decision.
“I am relieved that he wasn’t guilty – that the court was very deliberate that he was not guilty,” said an emotional Ian Eggen.”We weren’t here looking for vengeance. We wanted information on what happened.”
He said he considered this a great exercise of the legal system, in that police are held to the same standards as others.
“We don’t blame him for our daughter’s death – she was at fault,” he said, adding that Courtney was probably an over-confident driver.
The Eggens do, however, have suggestions for improvements.
They would like to see more of an ongoing visible police presence, rather than “entrapment.”
They would also like to see dashboard cameras in all police cars, as well as time-stamping on all radio transmissions, so evidence is more detailed – whether it be used to prove innocence or guilt.
Helen Eggen said she, too, feels no animosity.
She emphasizes that Courtney was a good girl whose life was going well. She was taking pre-apprectice training to be an electrician and had a big test coming up the next day.
“She wouldn’t have done anything to jeopardize it… In her life, things were good.”
In a detailed ruling, Wallace went over the evidence presented. She acknowledged that the evening of June 20 had had a tragic outcome, and nothing that happened in the court case could take away the grief of Courtney’s family.
She said the legal test of dangerous driving is whether the driving, viewed objectively but with all circumstances considered, is markedly different from what a reasonable, prudent person would do in the circumstances.
Added to that was the fact Chan is a police officer who was operating an emergency vehicle in discharge of his duty. An officer can exceed the speed limit, if the circumstances fall within MVA regulations.
Although police officers who testified said they wouldn’t classify Chan’s actions as a pursuit because the driver of the white car was already driving at high speeds, Wallace did, referring to the wording of the law.
“I find on the plain meaning of those words, Const. Chan began pursuing the white car because it didn’t stop.”
In a pursuit, the law states that an officer must decide if the need for action outweighs the risk to the public.
Wallace said the high speed of the driver was “an obvious risk to the public.”
She also said the evidence provided by the civilian witness does not establish whether the driver knew Chan was behind her – he did not activate his siren – nor is there an explanation of why the driver went through the stop sign so fast.
“I cannot say if the driver of the white car was attempting to evade the police car or whether her speed at Five Corners was part of a pattern of reckless driving.”
Wallace also referred to data provided by expert witnesses that showed Chan slowed his vehicle at intersections as well as at corners in his drive between Five Corners and the crash site.
She also referred to a Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled it is the manner of driving which determines if it’s dangerous, not the consequence.
She concluded her decision by stating, when she considered all the evidence, she was not convinced Const. Chan was driving dangerously, “and I acquit him.”