‘I loved him more than life itself’
Widows of men killed in Butter Pot crash address court as driver Kyle Follett is found guilty
Frances Ralph carried a framed photo of her husband, Randy, to the witness box at provincial court Monday, April 9. In her right hand, she held her typed victim impact statement. Her left hand remained on top of the frame on the edge of the box, as if she were swearing her oath on it.
In place of her wedding ring, Ralph had opted for something more permanent: Randy’s name in tiny script at the base of her finger.
“His name is Randy,” Ralph began, looking straight at Kyle Follett in the dock.
“He was the beautiful man sitting in the back of the RAV4.
“Not only did Randy die, so did I.”
Ralph addressed Follett, 28, directly as she read her statement, telling him it was taking every bit of her soul to stand there and look at him. Follett didn’t respond, or even raise his head to acknowledge he was hearing her.
Follett, from Clarke’s Beach, was found guilty last Monday of driving with undue care and attention - not a criminal charge, but a traffic ticket punishable by a maximum fine of $180. In Follett’s case, his undue care caused the death of Ralph’s husband, 52, and his colleague, 40-year-old Shannon Pittman, two years ago.
The chain of events started with Felicia Pynn and Lee Campbell, who had reportedly broken into a cabin in Deer Park earlier in the day and stolen an ATV and other items. They are said to have loaded the items in the back of a Dodge Ram pickup they were test-driving from a dealership. Driving at a speed of more than 170 km/h back to St. John’s, the truck somehow ended up in the grassy median and the ATV fell out. Motorists stopped to see if everything was OK. When Randy Ralph, Shannon Pittman and driver Dwaine Dalton - who survived the accident approached in a Toyota RAV4, Follett smashed into them from behind in a five-tonne truck.
The men had been driving back to St. John’s from Whitbourne, where they were educators at the province’s youth detention centre. Ralph died at the scene. Pittman died the next day in hospital.
Both their widows used the opportunity of presenting a victim impact statement to tell the court about their husbands and the love stories they shared.
Ralph continued to speak directly to Follett, saying she and Randy had met at Memorial University as teenagers and married in 1989.
“We promised to be together till death do us part,” she said. “But I didn’t think it would be so soon.”
Ralph described her husband as a lover of life, honest, kind and compassionate, and a devoted father to their two children, as well as a devoted teacher to his students. Randy was also a coach, she said, and particularly liked wrestling.
“He was a genuinely kind human being with a genuine smile that could light up the room,” Ralph said, telling of how she writes letters to him in a journal as a way to feel close, and kisses his picture and the urn containing his ashes every night before she goes to sleep, telling him that she loves him.
“I loved him more than life itself,” she told Follett through tears. “I would do anything to have him back.
“The impact of this tragedy on our lives, you’ll never know.”
Like Ralph, Sarah Pittman told the court exactly how many days it has been since she last saw her husband alive and well: 720. She sobbed and her body shook as she read from her lengthy statement, remaining focused on the pages. She has used her rage to survive, she said.
Pittman said she met her husband through a coworker, describing their wedding day 10 years ago as “the best day of my life.” Shannon had a biochemistry degree, she said, but had retrained as a teacher. He was due to begin his master’s program the September after he was killed.
Shannon was compassionate, patient, empathetic, rational, non-judgmental and encouraging, she said. He was a father of two, a lover of music and fitness, and had registered for his first bodybuilding competition, but never lived to attend it.
Pittman said she had been trying to track her husband down when she saw her cellphone in her purse light up, displaying a hospital number she still knows by heart. “Is he dead?” is how she answered the phone, and was told by a doctor he was alive, but barely. He had suffered significant g-force trauma in the accident, causing irreparable brain damage.
“I was told neurosurgery was futile. I knew this already,” Pittman said, but she consented to the surgery anyway, hoping to keep her husband alive until his mother could get to town. Pittman spoke of being with Shannon when he took his last breath.
“God damn it all, it wasn’t supposed to happen,” she said.
“No one should have to choose which box their 40-yearold husband will be cremated in. No 38-year-old wife should have to write his obituary.
“I feel dead inside,” Pittman said, describing life as a “living hell” and a “torturous purgatory.”
“Here’s one of the worst things about Shannon’s death. It happens again every morning.”
Dwaine Dalton also took the stand, looking at Follett as he spoke of suffering with a traumatic brain injury, causing him significant memory, concentration and vision problems, as well as depression. He had no memory of the accident when he first regained consciousness, he said, and didn’t realize his colleagues had been killed until months later.
“I have heard several times that I was lucky,” the father of two young children said. “I understand the general meaning of the word, but I prefer to say I was not as unlucky as my passengers.”
Dalton, who has been unable to work since the accident, said he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be a teacher again, though he hopes to finish at least one of the three courses he has remaining to earn a master’s of education degree in psychology.
His wife, Lori, was emotional as she, too, addressed the court, recounting how she tried to keep her family’s life together, knowing it would never be the same because of Dalton’s brain injury. It took months for Dalton to start regaining some of his abilities, she said, noting his “independence has been wiped.”
Pittman’s 24-year-old daughter, Allison Pittman, was the last to provide a statement to the court, read aloud by prosecutor Tannis King. In it, she detailed the things hospital staff had found in her father’s pockets and on his body the day of the crash: his wallet, his watch, a set of car keys, his wedding ring, a grocery list.
“Time does not heal all wounds,” she wrote. “Those who say so have never felt this pain.”
Earlier in the morning, Judge Colin Flynn announced his guilty verdict for Follett, noting road conditions and the weather were fair the day of the accident, and a number of other vehicles had safely slowed down and parked at the sight of the pickup and ATV in the median. Because Follett had testified at trial that he couldn’t remember anything leading up to the accident, Flynn said, he was unable to rely on his evidence.
“From the evidence presented, I can only conclude that he had fallen asleep, as he first indicated to others (witnesses) that he might have done, or that for some reason he was just not paying attention to circumstances in front of him for up to a kilometre before the collision with the RAV4.”
After listening to the victim impact statements, Flynn said they were “something beyond” what he had ever heard in his 40-year career.
“This penalty does nothing to alleviate your pain,” he told the families, ordering Follett to pay the maximum $180 ticket. “It is what it is. All I can do is wish you well.”
The province has made changes to the Highway Traffic Act since the accident. As of June, the maximum penalties for driving without care and attention will increase to $480, and a new charge of driving without due care and attention causing bodily harm or death will be added, with maximum penalties of $20,000, two years in jail, a five-year driving suspension and six demerit points.
Not only did Randy die, so did I.
— Frances Ralph
Kyle Follett, 28, prepares to leave the courtroom after being found guilty of driving without care and attention, causing a highway crash that killed teachers Randy Ralph, 52, and Shannon Pittman, 40, and injured Dwaine Dalton two years ago.