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Defence says Tabanao not ‘morally blameworthy’ in Highway 401 crash that killed 4

Closing arguements are underway at the trial of Quebec truck driver Dunhill Tabanao
Quebec truck driver Dunhill Tabanao appeared in Superior Court in Kingston for the final days of his trial.

The defence for Dunhill Tabanao spent the majority of their closing summations arguing that the Crown had not proven he was criminally responsible for the Highway 401 crash that killed four people and left two injured two years ago.

After midnight on May 11, 2017, Tabanao’s truck collided with six vehicles stopped in traffic on the highway near the Joyceville exit.

READ MORE: Trial of Quebec truck driver involved in Hwy. 401 crash that killed 4 continues

The crash killed 44-year-old Christine Hanrahan and her partner, 40-year-old Pierre Courville, as well as her 25-year-old son Mitchell Caird and his friend, 21-year-old Zack MacGregor.

Tabanao is facing four counts of dangerous driving causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. He pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Edmund Chan, one of the lawyers arguing for the defence, began closing summations on Monday saying although the Crown may have proven that Tabanao’s driving was dangerous that night, conceding there is evidence that Tabanao did not stop until the very last second before the collision, he said the Crown failed to prove there was any criminal intent in that action.

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Chan also noted his own argument — that the truck driver tried to stop right before he struck the first vehicle — is contested. He presented data from the tractor trailer showing the vehicle slowed down one second before it impact, something Chan argues hinted that Tabanao was trying to break.

An OPP reconstructionist, Steve Anderson, argued the recorded slowdown is likely due to the impact, and not any action taken by the truck driver.

4 dead, 2 injured in Hwy. 401 crash near Kingston
4 dead, 2 injured in Hwy. 401 crash near Kingston

Why Tabanao did not slow down is still in question. It seems on the road that night, according to OPP reconstructionists, traffic had moved to the right lane of the highway since further ahead there was an lane reduction going through a construction zone. This, and a small traffic collision that also occurred further ahead, caused what Chan described as “stop-and-go” traffic.

Despite it being a fairly straight and level stretch of road, Tabanao’s truck seemingly drove straight into the vehicles ahead of it, destroying a Ford Focus and killing the four passengers inside, and causing an armoured Garda Security vehicle to flip, injuring the two occupants.

Chan referenced Crown prosecutor Gerard H. Laarhuis’s argument that there was no way Tabanao couldn’t have seen the “sea of red lights” on the highway in the dark of the night, but the defence came back with two witness testimonies putting that into question.

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READ MORE: Trial begins for truck driver involved in Hwy. 401 collision that killed 4 in Kingston

One witness, Patryk Fijalkowski, was interviewed at the scene by an OPP officer “less than an hour after the accident.” According to Chan, Fijalkowski was the last person to arrive in the line of vehicles before Tabanao. Fijalkowski drove his vehicle into the ditch to avoid being struck by Tabanao’s truck.

Chan quoted Fijalkowski, who reportedly told OPP that as he was driving up to the line of traffic on the higway, he had trouble seeing the taillights.” [I] couldn’t indicate the cars.”

Chan also pointed to testimony from a driver of another tractor trailer involved in the collision that night, who reportedly testified at pre-trial that, despite Laarhuis arguing that commercial vehicles were travelling in traffic with their hazard lights on, he said neither his tractor trailer, nor the tanker in front of him had their four-ways on before the crash.

The defence seemed to indicate that the stop-and-go nature of the traffic in the darkness of night could have made it difficult for Tabanao to determine traffic was stopped at all.

Still, there is witness testimony from moments after the accident in which Tabanao seems to admit to being inattentive moments before the crash.

Accoding to Chan, Tabanao asked an OPP officer on scene if he was going to jail. When the OPP officer asked why he was saying that, Tabanao reportedly pointed to his right side and said “I was reaching down…then I hit them.”

Day 2 of the trail of a truck driver, were four Kingston residents died
Day 2 of the trail of a truck driver, were four Kingston residents died

Another witness, Bradley Binder, testified in court, saying that Tabanao told him after the crash, “I did this, I am probably going to go to jail,” and then told Binder he was reaching for his cell phone.

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Rather than statements of guilt, Chan said these were words of a man who felt remorse and fear.

The defence also argued that Tabanao’s driving history — the Crown noted that the truck driver has been in a collision once before — and his training as a truck driver do not hold him to a higher standard, and make him more culpable in the collision than a civilian.

READ MORE: Tragedy strikes twice for Gananoque-area family following fatal Hwy 401 crash

Chan also noted that there were no aggravating factors that would indicate that Tabanao was driving dangerously for an extended period of time prior to the collision. He was not under the influence of any substance, and had not been recorded as driving recklessly prior to the crash.

All in all, Chan said he does not believe the Crown has proven that his client was “morally blameworthy” for the incidents that took place that evening.

The Crown’s closing summations will continue on Tuesday, and the verdict is tentatively set for March 23.