Charges stayed against bus driver in fatal collision involving Edmonton teen: ‘My daughter’s life doesn’t matter’
The loved ones of a 13-year-old Edmonton girl who was hit and killed by a bus said they are stunned by a decision by Crown prosecutors to stay charges against the accused bus driver.
Mariama Sillah was in a marked crosswalk at 134 Avenue and 40 Street when she was hit by a city transit bus November 26, 2016. According to police at the time, the driver was unaware of what happened and the teen was dragged a short distance.
Father Sheku Sillah said his daughter had gone to the nearby Subway to pick up some food.
“I said, ‘Mariama, let me pray and I’ll give you a ride.’ [She said] ‘Oh daddy, it’s not even cold. Don’t worry, I’ll go,’” he said.
Sillah waited for her to return, but the teen never did.
“I call[ed] her phone, no answer. Then I called again, no answer,” he said.
Later, there was a call to his phone from a 587 number – it was someone from the Edmonton Police Service asking for his address.
Feeling something was wrong, Sillah grabbed his jacket and ran to the nearby intersection.
“I saw lights. I saw barricades. I saw helicopters, a lot of fire trucks, ambulance. I knew something happened with my daughter – Mariama is dead.”
Initially in disbelief over his only child’s death, Sillah said it was a relief when he learned the bus driver, Judith Jackson, had been charged. He said the months since her death have been difficult.
“I was completely down. Devastated. I can’t even talk to people. I can’t move. I can’t do anything,” he said.
However, Global News has learned the charge of failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk has since been stayed by the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.
In a statement to Global News, assistant deputy minister Eric Tolppanen said evidence is carefully considered at every stage of a prosecution. Tolppanen’s statement reads, in part:
“The Crown’s review of the evidence — including witness statements, physical evidence and video of the police interview of the defendant — revealed that it could not be proven that the accused was negligent while driving through the crosswalk. As such, the Crown determined that this case did not meet the prosecution standard of ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction.'”
Sillah said the news, which came on the eve of a celebration of life for Mariama, was devastating to hear.
“That was the greatest shock in my life. I [didn’t] know what to do,” he said.
“I was just thinking my daughter’s life doesn’t matter.”
Sillah, who is connected to Edmonton’s Sierra Leone community, said he is hopeful the Crown will reconsider.
Kemoh Mansaray, president of the Sierra Leone Association of Alberta, said there are plans to reach out to MLAs about the issue and organize a rally, though the exact details have yet to be determined.
“It was disappointing. It was hurtful. My first instinct was what is happening,” he said about the news that charges had been stayed.
Mansaray said the decision is not fair to the Sillah family, who wanted to go through the motions of the justice system.
“Whatever the results may have been will not bring back Mariama. But at least it would bring the closure to the family to see that they have their day in court,” he said.
Family friend Martha Sellu, who is a social worker, said Mariama’s death continues to traumatize the community, adding she has organized group counseling to help people cope.
“The shock and also the way it affected all of us… you have a lot of questions to ask. What happened? How could we have prevented this? How could this happen?” she said.
“When our kids want to go to school, they’re worried, they’re scared that if I go out there, the bus is going to hit me.”
Sellu said she wants to see justice for Mariama and wishes the Crown had made a different decision about staying the charges.
“It’s not fair. It’s really not fair to this family. It’s not fair to the community as a whole,” she said.
Mark Tetterington, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, said it is a mystery what happened to Mariama.
“It’s tragic what happened. I don’t think it mattered who was driving the bus that day – I think it would have happened, tragically, it would have happened to any driver,” he said.
Tetterington said the driver, who has been with ETS for close to 20 years, had been on worker’s compensation after the incident because of stress. He said she is currently on medical leave for an unrelated issue.
He said there is now greater awareness among bus drivers to watch out for pedestrians. He also said the local transit union is continuing conversations with the city about blind spots and mirrors on transit buses.
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