Judge issues not guilty verdict in fatal crash

A woman was found not guilty Tuesday of dangerous driving causing death under the Criminal Code for her role in a 2017 collision near Valemount that killed a McBride man.

Vanessa White let out a gush of both relief and sorrow upon hearing the verdict. She turned to the family of Dwayne Needham in the gallery and expressed her regret for all that happened.

"I'm so sorry, I'm so very sorry," she gasped through sobs and heaves. "There hasn't been a day that's gone by when I haven't cried about this."

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ron Tindale found Crown prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that White's actions were outside the norm that would have led to a criminal conviction.

White and her then-boyfriend, Ryan Summers, were driving a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck from a dealership in Victoria to one in Edmonton. White was behind the steering wheel when, just before 6:36 a.m. on July 3, 2017 she attempted to pass a logging truck while heading north on Highway 5.

Driving a Saturn car, Needham was heading south. Both he and White swerved side to side to avoid each other, but they collided on the shoulder of the highway.

Both White and Summers were wearing seat belts. A paramedic, Summers put White's seat in the reclined position when she said her back hurt. When he went to check on Needham, he found no pulse.

Over the course of four days last week, Tindale heard testimony from Summers, the logging truck's driver, Dennis Newman, an RCMP collision reconstructionist and an expert witness called on White's behalf.

Hauling a load of 61-foot (19-metre) spruce logs, Newman had told the court he had set his cruise control at 100 km/h after leaving the 70 km/h zone at Valemount. Some 6-7 kilometres north of Valemount, he approached two rises and as he started up the second rise, Newman said he saw White's pickup truck about 500 to 750 metres behind him. As he started down the rise, he noticed Needham's car heading in the opposite direction at normal highway speed and then swerve side to side.

He became fixated on the car because it appeared to be having mechanical problems and noted its headlights were not on. He also noticed the pickup truck's lights in his sideview mirror and estimated it was about 200 metres behind and traveling at about 150 km/h. Needham, conversely, had slowed to about 20 km/h and had crossed the fog line, according to Newman.

About two seconds after he had gone past Needham, Newman testified he heard a horrific crash. He pulled over and called 911.

Summers testified that White's speed was about 110 km/h when she came upon the logging truck and had swerved into the oncoming lane to take a peek. Seeing no oncoming traffic, she decided to pass and upon seeing Needham's car, veered twice to get out of its way only to see Needham mirror her actions.

Based on data retrieved from the event data recorder in White's pickup, she was up to 135 km/h while making the pass and had slowed to 111 km/h upon impact. The experts agreed Needham's was likely going 113 km/h when he began to take evasive action and that the car's event data recorder was not functioning properly just prior to the collision.

Tindale found White saw Needham's oncoming car only when she had gone into the opposing lane to make the pass. By then, he was barely 200 metres away and without the car's headlights on. At that point, "the decision to make the pass or abort this maneuver had to be decided in seconds," Tindale said.

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