Judge acquits driver charged in CNC student's death

A woman driving a pickup truck that struck and killed a College of New Caledonia student in June 2018 was found not guilty Thursday of impaired driving.

Michelle Denise Dac was acquitted in provincial court by a judge who found reasonable doubt that Dac was not impaired by alcohol at the time of the accident on Highway 97. The collision resulted in the death of Sandeep Kaur, an international student from India who had been attending CNC for two months. She died at the scene.

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Kaur was jaywalking when she tried to cross the two southbound lanes of Highway 97, north of the intersection at 22nd Avenue. Witness testimony established that Dac was observing the speed limit just before the accident and had no chance of stopping when Kaur ran out from in front of a white van stopped in the right lane. Dac's view of the student was obstructed by the van as Kaur ran into the left lane where the impact occurred.

In earlier testimony, Dac said she left her work as an injury adjustor for ICBC at 4:01 p.m. on the day of the accident. Police interviewed five of her colleagues at work, one who recalled giving her a hug to console her when she became upset at the recent death of her father and another who spoke with her in the parking lot an hour before Dac left work. None of the witnesses detected any signs of impairment or noticed anything unusual.

At 4:18 p.m., 20 minutes before the accident, Dac purchased a two-litre bottle of California Cooler and two smaller cooler bottles at a liquor store on 10th Avenue. In her earlier testimony, Dac originally testified she had no recollection of going to the liquor store after work. While waiting for first responders to arrive after the crash, Dac opened the rear door of her truck and took an empty cooler bottle and poured in half of the contents of a full two-litre cooler in and the last remaining ounce of a bottle of vodka. She then sat on the grass and guzzled the mixture within about 30 seconds and deposited the empty bottle in a garbage can. She said she drank the mixture to try to calm herself down.

Police detected liquor on Dac's breath and her blood was tested twice. The first test, at 6:23 p.m., showed 140 milligrams of blood alcohol content in the sample, while the second, taken at 6:44 p.m., showed 130 mg. The legal limit is 80 mg.

After watching video surveillance taken from three angles at the liquor store where Dac made her purchases right before the accident, provincial court judge Peter McDermick said Dac showed a series of actions that displayed some degree of fine motor skills. She seemed steady on her feet as she placed the bottles of liquor on the counter. She inserted her bank card into the card-reading device on the first attempt and entered the code without difficulty or hesitation while carrying on a conversation with the clerk. As she approached her vehicle she reached up to the sunglasses from the top of her head smoothly and accurately. In the judge's estimation, the video evidence suggested reasonable doubt she was actually impaired at the time her truck hit Kaur.

Dac's original charges of dangerous driving, impaired driving causing death and causing an accident resulting in death were later dropped.

Concerns raised by students to make the area in front of the college safer resulted in the installation of a 310-metre section of chain-link fence on the median from 18th Avenue to 23rd Avenue to prevent pedestrians from jaywalking on that part of Highway 97.

City staff also removed a sidewalk from the CNC campus to a decommissioned bus stop, erected signs on the CNC campus directing pedestrians to the intersection and installed concrete barriers on the west side of East Central at 20th Avenue. Vehicle access from Westwood Drive to 22nd Avenue was also permanently blocked.

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