A driver who admitted he was fatigued at the time of a frontal crash that killed a motorcyclist three years ago near Oliver was acquitted on Friday of criminal charges arising from the incident.
Daerio John Romeo, 29, was charged with dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm in the crash of July 14, 2018, which killed Paul Knight and seriously injured his wife by Knight, Ruth.
Romeo’s trial took place in the British Columbia Supreme Court in Penticton in May, and Judge Dennis Hori delivered his ruling in Kelowna on Friday.
The lawsuit heard that Knight, a 64-year-old English dentist, was on vacation in Canada at the time and was visiting the Okanagan with his wife aboard a 2018 Harley Davidson they had rented in Calgary.
Romeo was driving a 1999 Toyota Corolla sedan when he collided with the Knights’ motorcycle on a two-lane stretch of Highway 97 near Highway 18, about 10 kilometers south of Oliver.
According to an RCMP crash analyst who testified at trial, Romeo’s car was heading north when the driver’s side mirror scuffed the driver’s side of a southbound pickup truck. Then, about 1.5 seconds later, Romeo’s car collided head-on with Knight’s motorcycle in a southerly direction.
Based on physical evidence gathered at the scene, retired Corporal David Barnhart determined that the point of impact between the car and the motorcycle was only 0.26 meters from the fog line in the lane. heading south, which means Romeo’s vehicle veered deeply into oncoming traffic.
The officer also noted that there was no evidence, such as skid marks, to suggest that Romeo had taken evasive action before either collision.
“The lack of physical evidence is indicative of non-cognitive driving, which can be due to many reasons: whether there is impaired driving, distracted driving, or the driver has fallen asleep,” Barnhart explained. .
Another RCMP officer who attended the scene testified that Romeo, after being pulled from his car by rescue teams, admitted he was not at his best.
“I think fatigue caused the accident. I was tired, ”Romeo told the officer.
Based on this evidence, the Crown also called as witnesses a couple who encountered Romeo driving irregularly on nearby Highway 3 between Keremeos and Osoyoos about an hour before the crash.
The couple, who videotaped their 12-minute interaction and eventually called the police, watched Romeo’s car come in and out of its lane and pass vehicles on continuous double lines.
At around 1:52 p.m., the couple lost sight of Romeo when he arrived at an industrial area near Osoyoos. At 2:43 p.m., Romeo crashed into the Knights’ motorcycle about 10 km north of the industrial area.
Taken as a whole, the prosecution argued, Romeo’s failure to rest enough in Osoyoos amounted to dangerous driving. But the judge didn’t see it that way.
“The difficulty with the Crown’s argument is that while Mr. Romeo should have anticipated the risk of driving while tired, there is no evidence that Mr. Romeo did not take steps to avoid the risk. Had the Crown been able to present evidence that Mr. Romeo’s erratic conduct continued from Osoyoos until the collision, the Crown would have made a more convincing argument. However, there is no such evidence, ”Judge Hori said in his ruling.
“Given the lack of evidence, I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Romeo did not take any action during the 51 minutes to relieve his fatigue and avoid the risk of continuing to drive,” continued Hori.
“If Mr. Romeo were to leave the freeways to relieve his fatigue by taking a short nap or cooling off, I would not view his driving as a marked departure from the actions a reasonable person would take under these circumstances.”