RCMP officers survey the scene after a fatal motor vehicle accident in Salmon Arm.

Trial into fatal crash unfolds

Courtney Eggen of Cherryville died in a crash in Salmon Arm, witness testifies she was driving at extreme speeds

  • Oct. 24, 2014 7:00 p.m.

Martha Wickett

Black Press

The first two witnesses in the trial of police officer Micah Chan both gave similar reports regarding the period leading up to a fatal crash in Salmon Arm’s industrial park on June 20, 2013.

On that night, a white sedan driven by 21-year-old Courtney Eggen of Cherryville crashed into a parked dump truck, killing her. Shortly after, a police cruiser driven by Salmon Arm RCMP Const. Chan went off the road nearby, sliding backwards down an embankment. Its back bumper came to rest against a building across Auto Road from the Country Kitchen parking lot, where the dump truck was parked.

Chan was charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle after the police Independent Investigations Office, a relatively new civilian-led body that conducts investigations into police-involved incidents that result in death or serious harm, investigated the incident.

James Young, a 57-year-old CP Rail worker from Kamloops, had driven a 10-ton CP Rail truck to Gemm Diesel for servicing, and was waiting by the business at 5270 Auto Rd. SE for his boss.

In his testimony in Provincial Court in Salmon Arm Monday, Young estimated he was there about 45 minutes to an hour, possibly more, between 10 p.m. and midnight when he heard a sound that caught his attention.

Although he testified he had heard four or five vehicles pass by while he was waiting, and all appeared to be going fast – probably about 80 km/hr in the 60 km/hr zone, this particular car made an impression.

“That’s what got my attention, the sound of that car,” he told defence lawyer Neville McDougall under cross-examination. “It was a high speed, an extreme high speed.”

Reverting to miles rather than kilometres, Young said he estimated the car was travelling at about 100 miles per hour.

“Just extreme velocity.”

He said the vehicle was flying and the next thing he heard was a ‘thunk’ as it hit the dump truck, lifting it. He thinks he remembers calling 911 as he walked towards the accident scene.

Young estimated the time between when he heard the crash and then saw emergency lights reflecting on the trees down the road was about six to 10 seconds. He said the sound of the police vehicle approaching was different than the white car, slower.

“The speed of the white vehicle was what stands out. The police vehicle – the sound wasn’t that fast.”

Young testified he then heard squealing of tires and, when he first was able to see the police car, which was heading east on Auto Road, its back end was leading.

“I think he was trying to stop, I don’t think he expected to come onto a horrific accident. I could hear him trying to get under control, trying to compensate.”

He testified that he watched as the police car slid down the bank backwards.

When Young was questioned by Crown counsel Allan Mandell, he testified that the police officer was looking over the embankment, holding a gun after he got out of the police car, pointing it towards the ground.

Defence lawyer McDougall asked him which hand he was holding it in and he said left. McDougall asked if it could have been a police radio with an antenna. Young didn’t think so.

“Maybe it was me using my imagination, but it looked like a gun to me.”

Asked if he had seen another weapon on the officer’s right hip, he said no.

The next witness was Barbara Lidstone, who testified she lives on a farm in the 3000 block of Auto Road, where a picture window in her house looks out onto the road.

Mandell established that her view of Auto Road is a long straight stretch, and she can see to the intersection at 40th Street. She said she thinks most people tend to travel over the 60 km/hr speed limit along the road.

On the night of the accident, Lidstone testified it was close to midnight when she went to her window where she could see the police car as well as a white-coloured vehicle.

She estimated the police car was 600 metres behind the white car and agreed it was travelling at a slower speed.

Lidstone testified that she was hesitant to contact the IIO investigators but she did so several days after the crash because of a post she’d read on Facebook. Neither the Crown nor the defence lawyer asked her to describe the post.

McDougall questioned her about how she had initially reacted to what she’d read. She testified she had called it “bullshit.”

McDougall then asked her if she thought there was any way the police officer could have caught up to the other vehicle by the time it got to 50th, and she replied, “No.”

The final witness on Monday was Cpl. Luiz Sardinha, who was the officer in charge – but was just going off shift – at the time of the crash. He testified that as he was about to leave, he heard Const. Chan on the radio, saying a vehicle was taking off at speeds of 140 km/hr southbound down the road.

Sardinha said he had an idea this had happened at Five Corners, a problem four-way stop where Chan and another officer had been earlier – but he wasn’t sure where Chan or the other vehicle were when he spoke to him.

“I asked him what did the person do, he said they had blown the stop sign.”

Sardinha said he then told Chan to “shut it down.” He said that means to turn off the lights and pull over.

“He acknowledged, 10-four.”

Sardinha said he didn’t consider this a pursuit.

“He said the vehicle was going away from him at 140 – going away from him. It wasn’t a pursuit.”

Sardinha said he also told him to bring up the repeater so the information could be sent out to Armstrong and Enderby who might be able to stop the vehicle.

Asked how much time had passed between Sardinha saying ‘shut it down’ and Chan’s vehicle going off the road, Sardinha testified: “It was quick. I gave an estimate of 30 seconds. I know it was quick.”

Sardinha said when Chan reported he’d gone off the road, he then said he’d seen the white car.

“It had hit a dump truck and there was someone hanging out of the vehicle, partially ejected,” testified Sardinha.

The trial was expected to continue through Thursday and then break off until Wednesday of next week when more courtroom time is available.

 

Along with the two civilian witnesses and Sardinha, Crown prosecutor Mandell said he expects to call other police officers and expert witnesses. McDougall said he expects his part of the trial will take only a day.

 

 

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