A woman on trial for a multi-vehicle collision that killed a pedestrian two years ago in Courtenay is guilty of three of the nine charges she faced.
Serina Laliberte, 48, was found guilty of having a blood-alcohol content (BAC) over 0.08 mg/100 ml of blood causing an accident resulting in death, and two counts of causing an accident resulting in bodily harm.
Laliberte, wearing a grey sweater while sitting in the prisoner’s box, faced the judge and did not look around the packed courtroom gallery as the hour-and-a-half verdict was read Friday morning.
On July 26, 2016, a Nissan Pathfinder travelling in the northbound lane on Cliffe Avenue struck a pedestrian, proceeded to hit two other vehicles near the intersection and then crashed into parked cars in a nearby parking lot.
A male pedestrian in his early 70s was rushed to hospital, along with the drivers of two other vehicles stopped at the intersection of Cliffe Avenue and 26th Street. The male pedestrian later died in hospital.
The trial began in September and was scheduled for five days in Courtenay Supreme Court, but was carried over to Oct. 2 and 3 as both the defence and Crown agreed they needed more time.
Laliberte, who has type 2 diabetes and admitted on the stand she did not regularly take Metformin, her diabetes medication, drank a vodka and pop mixture from a coffee cup (poured from a water bottle at least half-filled with vodka) on the morning of July 26 while waiting for her friends for a day at Comox Lake.
After jumping the curb and hitting the pedestrian on the sidewalk, Laliberte then hit a vehicle stopped at a red light at the intersection of Cliffe Avenue and 26th Street (which subsequently rear-ended another vehicle) before crashing into two parked vehicles in a nearby parking lot.
Prior to Laliberte accelerating rapidly down Cliffe Avenue, two friends in her vehicle testified she became stiff and stared forward, unresponsive.
Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Watchuk said Laliberte’s breath sample at the scene registered as a fail, and two blood alcohol samples taken at the Comox Valley RCMP station read 120 mg/100 ml blood and 100 mg/100 ml blood.
Watchuk added Laliberte told the constable at the scene that she had been drinking and that she is a diabetic.
The judge explained she is satisfied the element of causation is proven for events over Laliberte’s BAC of 0.08, but in terms of three charges involving impaired driving, she did not find the causation link to be proven.
As a result, Laliberte was found not guilty of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.
She also faced one charge of dangerous driving causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, of which Watchuk found her to be not guilty of all three.
“I do accept the evidence Ms. Laliberte had a blackout or seizure. She was not aware of her actions or not in control. There was no evidence of dangerous driving before the stoplight at the outskirts of the city and she was driving properly,” she noted. “She did not know that it was dangerous to drive because she might have a seizure due to the interaction of alcohol and diabetes.
Following the verdict, Crown prosecutor Richard Ellsay and defence lawyer Eric Chesterley agreed on a pre-sentence report to be ordered prior to sentencing.
A sentencing date will be confirmed on Jan. 28, 2019, and is expected sometime in late February or March.
Outside the courthouse, Leslie Wells, the president of the Comox Valley Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said while the process of the verdict was initially confusing, Crown helped clarify the result for supporters and family members of the victim.
“My understanding is that the sentencing wouldn’t make a difference whether it was more charges or just the three, so that was a big relief to hear.”
She added the verdict sends a clear message: don’t drive when impaired.
“They determined the level of impairment of one (BAC)… and it had some horrific consequences. A guilty verdict is good.”
Family members of the victim were not available for comment following the verdict.