A 76-year-old woman is facing eight criminal negligence counts in connection with a horrific crash in west London, Ont., nearly two months ago that left an eight-year-old girl dead and nine others injured, police said Friday.
Emergency crews responded to the scene along Riverside Drive, just west of Wonderland Road, around 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2021 for a collision involving multiple pedestrians who had been struck by a vehicle that had mounted the curb.
At the time, police said a 76-year-old woman had been driving westbound along Riverside Drive when she struck a vehicle that was waiting at a red light at Wonderland Road.
The vehicle then continued through the intersection, mounted a curb, struck a light post, struck a small tree and then struck the group of pedestrians who had been walking eastbound on the north side of Riverside, police said.
Among those struck were 10 female pedestrians ranging in age from six to 40 years old, hospitalized for injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening, police said. Girl Guides of Canada confirmed to Global News that its members were among those injured.
An eight-year-old girl, identified by family as Alexandra Stemp, was critically injured in the crash and later succumbed to her injuries, police said.
All others have since been released from hospital.
On Friday, police announced that criminal charges had been laid.
Petronella H. McNorgan of London faces one count of criminal negligence causing death and seven counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
McNorgan was charged by way of summons and is expected to appear in court April 13, police said. McNorgan has no previous criminal record, according to the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“This has been a very difficult investigation for everyone involved, and we would like to offer our sympathy and support to the victims and their families,” said London police spokesperson Const. Sandasha Bough, who added the investigation had been “complex and lengthy.”
“All of the details with respect to what they learned during the course of that investigation will be shared through the court process.”
Lawyer Phil Millar, who is representing McNorgan, told Global News in an interview that his client remained devastated and traumatized by the crash, and rejected the idea she was criminally responsible.
Millar said McNorgan told him that her brakes malfunctioned as she went down the hill and that she “did her best to try to stop.” Riverside Drive slopes downward approaching Wonderland from the east.
“That day she had had her brakes serviced at the dealership … and we were able to identify that there was a fluid spill in her driveway on the same day from the brakes,” he said, declining to name the specific dealership.
“Police have done their investigation, we don’t have everything they have, but you know, we’re sitting in a situation where my client says, ‘The brakes stopped working, I couldn’t do anything. I did everything I could.'”
Millar noted his team hadn’t had the chance yet to examine McNorgan’s vehicle or look at the records, but said he wanted to make sure there wasn’t “another tragedy of an innocent person being wrongfully convicted.”
“It was either an unfortunate accident or a malfunction, but it was not a crime, and these charges are extraordinarily serious (and) carry up to life imprisonment.”
Neither the charges against McNorgan nor the position of her legal defence have been proven in court.
In a statement released to Global News days after the crash, Stemp’s family described their eight-year-old as a “brilliant and vivacious little girl with a terrific sense of humour,” and “a talented artist who loved her older brother with all her heart.”
“Our family is devastated by the loss of Alexandra in such a tragic circumstance,” the statement continued.
“Our hearts go out to the Brownie leaders and to the other girls/parent volunteers who are still recovering from their injuries. There is no doubt that the emotional scars from the events of Tuesday night will take much longer to heal than any physical injuries sustained.”
A GoFundMe launched to help support the Stemp family raised more than $28,000 from members of the community.
— With files from Andrew Graham, Jacquelyn LeBel