Winnipeg resident, Sarbjit Matharu (“Matharu”), has been found guilty of four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm related to an 11-car collision on Highway 400 in 2016.
Matharu was found to have knowingly put the public at risk by having only slept two hours while on a 28-hour long haul drive to deliver meat to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Ontario.
Matharu testified during a nine-day judge alone trial from his home in Winnipeg. He has been out on bail since his arrest in September 2016.
On the night of June 24, 2016, Matharu was operating a Volvo tractor-trailer on Highway 400 travelling southbound approaching Highway 401 in a construction zone when he slammed into the back of a Hyundai generating an 11 vehicle collision.
The driver of the Hyundai, Maria Lipska (“Lipska”), 27 years of age, died of multiple blunt force trauma and suffered post-mortem burns to 95% of her body.
Lipska’s car was pushed into Blerta Vokshi’s BMW, which flipped after she hit her sister Valbona Vokshi’s Honda, pushing it into the rear of a Freightliner tractor-trailer.
The occupants of the Honda were also pronounced dead at the scene, including 35-year-old Valbona Vokshi, 55-year-old Xhemile Vokshi and 5-year-old Isabela Kuci.
CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE CAUSING DEATH
Section 219 of the Criminal Code provides the definition for criminal negligence as follows:
219 (1) Every one is criminally negligent who
(a) in doing anything, or
(b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do,
shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety or other persons.
Section 220 of the Criminal Code outlines the offence of criminal negligence causing death, which reads as follows:
220 Every person who by criminal negligence causes death to another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable
(a) where a firearm is used in the commission of the offence, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of four years; and
(b) in any other case, to imprisonment for life.
The Supreme Court of Canada described the elements of criminal negligence causing death in the case of R. v. Javanmardi as follows:
The actus reus of criminal negligence causing death requires that the accused undertook an act – or omitted to do so anything that it was his or her legal duty to do – and that the act or omission caused someone’s death. … [T]he fault element of criminal negligence causing death is assessed by measuring the degree to which the accused’s conduct departed from that of a reasonable person in the circumstances. … In the context of criminal negligence causing death, however, the requisite degree of departure has been described as an elevated one – marked and substantial. … As with the assessment of conduct in cases of criminal negligence, the assessment of fault by the trier of fact is entirely contextual.
THE TRIAL DECISION
The evidence at Matharu’s trial concentrated primarily on the events surrounding the collision. The evidence consisted of testimony from eleven civilian witnesses who were at the scene of the collision, three police witnesses, relevant documents (i.e. photographs, daily log book, cell phone records, fuel purchase receipts), Matharu’s statement to the police and his testimony at the trial.
Justice Code did not find that Matharu’s account of the collision was either credible or reliable and completely rejected it. Instead Justice Code based his judgment upon the eyewitness testimony, which he found to be both credible and reliable.
Justice Code was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Matharu’s operation of the tractor-trailer was the immediate cause of the “escalating collision” and the immediate cause of the four deaths and the bodily harm suffered by the victims.
In determining whether Matharu’s driving conduct shows “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives and safety or other persons”, Justice Code outlined the following:
I am satisfied that a reasonably prudent long-haul truck driver would have foreseen the risk of a collision involving death or serious bodily harm in the circumstances of this case, and would have taken steps to avoid that risk.
Justice Code found that Matharu made the following deliberate decisions which risked public safety and which led to the collision, including:
- Driving his large heavy truck at a high speed on a major highway;
- Driving while engaged in a lengthy cell phone conversation instead of focusing on driving;
- Driving 10 km/h above the reduced speed limit in a construction zone when approaching a congested interchange with another major highway;
- Driving with insufficient sleep and rest; and
- Driving a large heavy truck in the manner that he did despite the obvious slowing traffic in front of him.
The cumulative effect of these multiple risks to public safety was to create a significant and obvious risk of a collision involving death or serious bodily harm that any reasonable long-haul truck driver would have foreseen.
Matharu will remain on bail until he returns to Toronto for a sentencing hearing in June.
If you have been charged with a driving related offence or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Out skilled criminal defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights. We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.