News

Not guilty verdict in fatal crash

From left: Audrey De Oliveira (Johnny
From left: Audrey De Oliveira (Johnny's mother) Korena De Oliveira (Johnny's step-mom), his friend Chelsea Axten, Debbie Dyer (Beckie Dyer's mother) and Beckie's aunt Jacquie Goolevitch react to the verdict outside New Westminster Supreme Court.
— image credit: Monisha Martins/The News

A woman who lost control of her car, killing a young couple in Pitt Meadows three years ago was acquitted of dangerous driving causing death Wednesday following a trial in New Westminster Supreme Court.

As soon as Madame Justice Miriam Gropper said the words "not guilty" family and friends of the couple who was killed stormed out of the court room. Many burst into tears.

Rebecca ‘Beckie’ Dyer, 19, and her boyfriend, Johnny De Oliveira, 21, died around midnight Oct. 19. 2010, when a Toyota driven by Andelina Kristina Hecimovic skidded sideways over a concrete median, flipped and landed on top of their Suzuki Swift.

Hecimovic was driving in the right-turn-only lane when she crossed the intersection of Harris Road and Lougheed Highway on a red light. An expert estimated she hit the concrete median at a speed of between 100 or 110 km/hr.

Hecimovic took the stand in her defence during the trial and testified she was heading to her boyfriend's house after a trying day working as a nurse at Eagle Ridge Hospital where a suicidal young man vomited on her.

Choking back tears, Hecimovic told the court she was thinking about her shift and suddenly smelled something odd as she approached the intersection. When she looked at her scrubs she noticed vomit on her shirt and burst into tears.

She was trying to wipe the tears off her face and focus on the road when she realized she had run a red light.

Crown alleged Hecimovic made a series of "deliberate" decisions that led to her losing control of her car after she hit a concrete island.

Justice Gropper disagreed.

She believed that Hecimovic was not trying to beat the red light.

The judge found Hecimovic's behaviour was not a "marked departure from the norm" as many people speed along that particular stretch of Lougheed Highway.

Justice Gropper also believed that Hecimovic was unfamiliar with that stretch of highway although her fiancé had lived about a kilometre ahead, on Meadows Gardens Way, for almost two years before the crash.

The Meadows Gardens Way address was also listed on Hecimovic's novice license.

"The move to the right lane was an error but not a deliberate attempt to get ahead of traffic," said Justice Gropper.

She found there was no evidence presented to show that Hecimovic was trying to jump the red light.

"Going through a red light is dangerous but it happens. People misperceive lights," Justice Gropper added.

"I accept the accused evidence that she did not see the light until she was at the intersection."

In short, Justice Gropper characterized Hecimovic's driving as "simple carelessness."

"The Crown has not met the heavy onus required. I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused's driving constitutes the offence of dangerous driving causing death," she said.

The "not guilty" verdict came as a surprise to the family and friends of Dyer and De Oliveira. De Oliveira's father John broke a table as he left the courtroom seething with anger.

"I'm so shocked," said De Oliveira's mother Audrey, in tears outside court.

Both families want Crown to appeal the verdict. They are now part of the activist group Families for Justice. The group is lobbying Ottawa for stiffer penalties for drivers who cause fatal crashes.

Quoting her daughter's favourite phrase "Be the change you wish to see in the world," Debbie Dyer said she had to live up to that.

"It's not over," said Dyer. Beckie was her only child.

"Justice wasn't served today. There was no example made today. It's not fair that she gets off with nothing."

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