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Fuel-truck crash on Malahat near Goldstream risked many lives, court told

Sep 13 2012
The driver of the Columbia Fuels truck lost control and crashed the vehicle on the Malahat in April 2011. 42,000 litres of gasoline spilled into Goldstream River. 

The driver of the Columbia Fuels truck lost control and crashed the vehicle on the Malahat in April 2011. 42,000 litres of gasoline spilled into Goldstream River.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , timescolonist.com (June 2012)

A Columbia Fuels driver whose truck crashed and spilled 43,000 litres of fuel into Goldstream River placed hundreds of people in jeopardy by driving while impaired and tired, prosecutor Steve Salmond told Western Communities provincial court Wednesday.

Salmond made the remarks at the sentencing hearing for Nanaimo resident James Allan Smith, 35, who pleaded guilty in June to dangerous driving and violating the Fisheries Act. About 43,000 litres of gasoline and 700 litres of diesel spilled into the river after Smith’s vehicle crashed into a rock wall near Goldstream park in April 2011.

The case is unusual because the Crown proceeded with both a criminal charge and an environmental charge.

“The Crown felt it could not ignore 40,000 litres of hydrocarbons going into a significant stream,” said provincial environmental prosecutor John Blackman, who also made submissions at the sentencing hearing.

On the dangerous driving charge, Salmond and defence lawyer Dale Marshall asked Judge Sue Wishart to impose a three-month conditional sentence order followed by nine months of probation with conditions for Smith to deal with his alcohol problem.

Salmond also wants a two-year driving prohibition, which Marshall opposed because the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles had already suspended Smith’s licence for two years in May 2011.

Blackman asked for a fine of $5,000 to $10,000 on the environmental charge. Marshall suggested it would be more appropriate to have Smith perform 200 hours of community work service in stream rehabilitation or fisheries habitat.

“There’s a wide range of options before the judge,” Marshall said outside court.

“Whether or not she imposes a fine versus community work service, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Charges of impaired driving and two charges under the Environmental Management Act were stayed.

Salmond read statements from witnesses who saw Smith driving the semi-truck pulling two full tankers down the Malahat before it crashed into a rock wall at about 6 p.m. on April 16, 2011.

They described the vehicle weaving side to side, the trailer swinging and hitting the shoulder of the road, sending up huge clouds of dust. Smith’s driving was erratic — sometimes slow, then speeding up in dangerous corners instead of slowing down.

Jillian Elrington told police she came around the corner into Goldstream Park and saw a tractor trailer partially in her lane.

“To my absolute astonishment, the truck front seemed to rear up at me, then it flipped over and slammed into the rock face,” she said. “I was just flabbergasted. I started to slow down, then the front axles of the truck came directly at me.”

Officers found a sombre Smith out of his truck, leaning against a barrier. The officers noticed eight cans of beer in the truck. A blood sample taken three hours after the accident show he had a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit.

Marshall asked the court to consider Smith’s early guilty plea. He said Smith had fallen into alcohol abuse at the age of 16 when his grandfather died. The cycle continued with the breakup of his marriage and his grandmother’s death in 2009.

“He failed to recognize it and get help until something serious happened,” said Marshall. “He’s suffered greatly from this. … He’s grateful nobody was hurt and he recognizes how serious it could have been.”

No date has been set for the judge’s decision.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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