MONTREAL – A woman who stopped to help a group of ducklings on the side of the road shed tears Friday as she was found guilty of causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his passenger daughter who slammed into her parked car.
The lawyer for Emma Czornobaj said his client was in shock after she was convicted by a jury on two counts of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing death.
Czornobaj, 25, was charged in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his daughter Jessie, 16, on a Montreal-area highway.
She wiped away tears when the verdict was delivered to a packed courtroom in Montreal.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Eliane Perreault asked each of the 10 men and two women on the jury whether they agreed with the verdict and they replied unanimously in favour.
The jury reached its decision as it entered its fourth day of deliberations on Friday.
Czornobaj was released until her pre-sentence hearing on Aug. 8.
She did not say anything to reporters and walked quickly by them in the courthouse corridor, holding up a newspaper to hide her face. Her mother was at her side.
Criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum life sentence while the charge of dangerous driving causing death comes with a maximum of 14 years in jail. Czornobaj has no previous criminal record.
Pauline Volikakis, whose husband and daughter were killed in the collision, briefly fought back tears when she left the courtroom.
She refused to speculate about a possible sentence, saying she just wanted to get on with her life.
“It’s been difficult,” said Volikakis. “But it’s finished. We’re moving on other things (and) we hope it will go well.
“I don’t wish misfortune on anyone,” she added. “It’s time that we go on. This will not bring (back) my loved ones.”
Volikakis was on another motorcycle behind her husband when the collision happened. She was driving more slowly and managed to avoid injury.
A provincial police officer testified at the trial that Roy, whose speed was estimated to be from 113 km/h to 129 km/h when he applied his brakes, collided with Czornobaj’s car at between 105 km/h and 121 km/h.
The jury was told the speed was higher than the prescribed 90 km/h limit on the road.
Roy’s motorcycle slammed into Czornobaj’s car, which was stopped in the left lane of a provincial highway in Candiac, south of Montreal.
His daughter was riding on the back of the motorcycle when the collision happened on June 27, 2010.
The trial heard that Czornobaj, who had three years’ driving experience at the time, had stopped to rescue ducklings on the side of the road.
The professed animal lover told the court that she did not see the ducklings’ mother anywhere and planned to capture them and take them home.
Czornobaj testified that she turned on her hazard lights and put on the parking brake.
The unemployed financial analyst also left the driver’s side door open and the engine idling, which showed she wasn’t expecting to be stopped very long.
Defence lawyer Marc Labelle, who is considering an appeal, said his client was stunned by the jury’s decision.
“The fact that she was involved in the accident in the first place was a hard experience for her,” he said. “The fact that she had to go through a trial with a lot of publicity was tough and to be confirmed by 12 citizens, the jury, that the conduct was criminal is a hard blow.”
Labelle, who has been a lawyer for around 30 years, pointed out that the case was a unique one.
“It’s the first time I do a trial where it is obvious that there is no criminal intent,” he said.
“It’s rare that we have a criminal negligence dossier where there are no bad elements,” Labelle noted. “It’s not someone who is taking a chance while driving drunk, it’s not someone who is speeding.”
Outside the courtroom, Crown prosecutor Annie-Claude Chasse publicly thanked the jury for their work.
“We do have a lot of respect for all the work of the jury,” Chasse said. “They did not have any easy questions to answer.”
The Crown attorney also had a message for motorists.
“What we hope is that a clear message is sent to society that we do not stop on the highway for animals. It’s not worth it.”