Accused testifies at hit-and-run trial
Man thought he struck a deer on highway, kept driving
The accused in a 2018 hitand-run collision which killed a 26-year-old man walking along Highway 5 near the Lethbridge airport testified in his own defence on Friday.
Michael White Quills, a 32-yearold father of three with no previous criminal record, admitted to the court he had been awake for over 20 hours, first competing in a rodeo on Sept. 1 and later that day attending RibFest in Lethbridge before heading to a local strip club, and then on to a local night club. He testified he then decided to drive home in his parents’ Dodge truck with two companions who were passed out in the passenger and back seat in the early morning hours of Sept. 2. He admitted he had drunk between nine and 11 beers during these 20 hours of excursions.
About the incident, White Quills testified he was speeding up from 60 km/h to reach the 80 km/h speed limit near the airport, and had looked down for about four or five seconds to change the radio when he struck “something” on the highway at about 4 a.m., something which he presumed to be an animal.
He testified he did not see anyone on the road prior to looking down to change the radio, or after the collision. He also didn’t see Eric Godlonton, a witness to the event, trying to flag him to stop.
Godlonton testified on Thursday just seconds before the fatal collision he had narrowly avoided striking two people, one of which turned out to be the victim, Gage Christian Good Rider, and a female companion, D.J. Long Time Squirrel, wandering in the roadway. Godlonton testified he had stopped his vehicle about 40 metres further along the highway after driving around the woman. As he stepped out of his vehicle he saw a truck approaching and he waved his arms to make the driver aware of the people on the highway, but the truck did not slow down.
White Quills said he did not stop or slow because he had been in a collision with a deer before which had stopped his vehicle and stranded him on the roadside. He said his parents’ truck appeared to be overheating after the Sept. 2 collision. He said he was worried about his parents’ reaction to the accident and wanted to get the vehicle home before becoming stranded again. He told the court he had known the truck’s grill had been badly damaged as a result of the collision, but hadn’t known the full extent of that damage until returning home.
After surveying the damage to the front of the vehicle, he and his friends had then gone to bed. It was only the next morning, White Quills testified, that he had heard through social media about a man being killed in the collision.
White Quills said he then decided to take responsibility for the accident, but wanted to consult family members before going to police. He got a ride back to the rodeo where he drank more beer, competed, and then spoke with his sister and a friend, who advised him to wait until the next day when he was fully sober to go into police, which he did.
Crown lawyer Erin Olsen challenged White Quills’ statements about his motivations for leaving the scene of the accident. Under intense crossexamination, White Quills eventually admitted he was also worried he was not covered as a driver under his parents’ insurance for the vehicle or that he might get a ticket for driving under the influence or careless driving. He admitted he had likely been going between 91 and 100 km/h at the time of the incident in a zone first marked for 60 km/h and then 80 km/h. He also admitted he did not really know what he struck, but was “fairly certain” it was a deer.
Olsen asked him if he should not have stopped to determine what he hit then?
“Looking back, I should have stopped,” White Quills admitted.
After White Quills’ testimony concluded, both defence and Crown lawyers presented their closing arguments to Judge Paul Pharo.
Calgary defence lawyer Balfour Der argued White Quills had proven to be a credible witness who had testified he did not know he had struck a person. Because White Quills was a credible and honest witness, the court should believe him, said Der, and render a notguilty verdict based on the principle of reasonable doubt because the Crown had not produced any evidence that White Quills ever fled the scene because he knew he had struck a person. He reminded the court his client was not on trial for careless driving or drinking and driving, but for knowingly fleeing the scene of an accident where a man had been killed. This charge should be the court’s only consideration when it comes to the state of mind of his client at the time of the accident, he concluded.
Olsen countered saying given White Quills’ own admissions about fearing the legal consequences of the accident this suggested he likely knew he had struck and killed a person or was “wilfully blind” to a fact he should have considered. She asked the court what person knowing they had been involved in a serious collision where the grill came off their truck would not have stopped immediately to check out the damage and be sure of what they hit? Instead White Quills had driven home without slowing or stopping. And after confirming the fatality had indeed happened a few hours later, and knowing he was one who had done it, White Quills had still not gone to the police, choosing to instead spend the day competing in a rodeo and “drinking more beers,” Olsen said.
Olsen concluded this should suggest to the court that White Quills had indeed known he had struck a person and was fleeing the consequences of his actions.
After closing arguments were complete, Judge Pharo reserved his decision on the verdict until May 7 in Lethbridge provincial court. -With files from Delon Shurtz Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter