‘I loved him more than life it­self’

Wi­d­ows of men killed in But­ter Pot crash ad­dress court as driver Kyle Fol­lett is found guilty

The Compass - - News - BY TARA BRAD­BURY Twit­ter: @tara_brad­bury

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

TARA BRAD­BURY/THE TELE­GRAM

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.

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