A woman accused of hitting and killing a man with her vehicle before driving away took the stand on Wednesday during the third day of her trial.
Tears flowed freely as the accused went through the incident in minute detail, answering questions about her role in the incident outside Stavros Lounge on Sept. 19, 2010 that led to the death of 21-year-old Daniel Carter.
The accused had been in Prince Albert for less than a month at the time of the incident, having moving away from her home in Pelican Lake after an argument with her boyfriend to seek work in the P.A. area.
With money tight, she was temporarily staying at her cousin’s apartment, venturing out at one point to meet for coffee with Jalissa Couture, 22, a longtime friend. The pair had gone their separate ways following high school graduation in 2009.
Two weeks prior to the alleged hit-and-run, the accused visited Stavros Lounge for the first time, where she witnessed her cousin’s boyfriend leave with another woman.
As she exited the bar, the accused referred to the latter as “that girl that took her boyfriend.” She said the woman followed her out of the bar and beat her up, leaving the accused with a black eye, swollen lip and lump on the head.
Though she did not report the incident to police, the episode left a lasting impression on the accused. As a result, she hesitated when Couture texted her on Saturday, Sept. 18 to invite her back to Stavros.
The text arrived late in the evening, when Couture was at the bar with her boyfriend and another male friend and did not want to be the only female present. Initially reluctant based on her last experience at Stavros, the accused eventually texted Couture that she would go.
The accused said she first stopped by the apartment of a friend and asked him to accompany her. Scared to go to Stavros alone, she ultimately ended up doing so and drove by herself to the establishment.
For approximately two hours, the accused sat in a booth at Stavros conversing with her friends and dancing. Though the number of drinks she consumed is contentious, the accused stated that she drank one highball and most of a cooler bought by a friend.
The two males present had consumed far more alcohol than the two women and by the end of the night were getting somewhat “rowdy.” Couture and her boyfriend left and asked the accused to drive their male friend home, but he described his intention to stay at the bar.
At that point, the accused got in her car. As she was backing out, she bumped into another vehicle behind her.
“It was a really tight squeeze there … I panicked, because I hit somebody else’s vehicle,” she told the court, indicating that her first instinct was to get away from the scene, in part because she was afraid of another physical altercation.
“I just wanted to go home,” she said.
Pulling out of the parking lot -- “I wasn’t driving very fast” -- the accused observed a large truck parked near the 14th Street entrance that she could “barely” see around.
Not seeing anyone in the street, the accused hit her brakes lightly, looked both ways and did not see anything. She then began to turn.
“When I was turning, I heard a thud on the back side of my vehicle,” she said to the court.
“I didn’t think it was anything,” she added. “I promise I didn’t.”
After hearing the thud, the accused continued driving, in part due to her fear of a physical confrontation.
“I heard people yelling and screaming as I was driving away,” she said, but believed it was typical noise outside a bar.
As the accused continued down the road, a whirlwind of thoughts began percolating in her head.
Though she at first considered the thud to have resulted from someone banging on her car, perhaps while intoxicated, eventually she began to consider the “worst-case scenario”: What if she had hit a person?
Arriving back at her cousin’s apartment, she did not inspect her car for damage, in part because it was already damaged from previous incidents (including falling into a ditch, running over a porcupine on the highway and coming into contact with two other vehicles).
I heard people yelling and screaming as I was driving away. Danielle Chamakese
She was also frightened in the large parking lot outside the apartment and wanted to get inside quickly. After briefly discussing the incident with a roommate, including bumping the other vehicle and the mysterious “thud” noise, she went to bed.
The accused spent the following days applying for jobs in Spiritwood, eventually obtaining an offer to work as a waitress at a local cafeteria.
The Friday following the incident, police showed up at the home where she was residing with her grandparents and arrested her. It was only when they began discussing the incident, location and her car that the accused began to piece together what had happened.
Police took her to a local detachment on-reserve and advised her to find a lawyer before driving her to Prince Albert. She was placed in a room with any items on her person confiscated. An officer then took her into another room to make a warned statement, video of which the court observed on Tuesday.
Addressing discrepancies between parts of that statement and others she has made regarding the incident, the accused noted how frightened and confused she was during the interview.
“I was feeling really scared, because I was never in that situation before … sitting in a cell by myself or talking to an officer,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”
During his questioning of the accused, Crown attorney Cam Scott presented surveillance footage from the parking lot and asked her to identify herself, a male companion and whether a glowing object seen in her hand was a cellphone.
Scott also presented three letters to the accused from SGI, the last of which stated that her licence had been suspended due to her failure to attend a defensive driving course.
While the accused did not recall when she finally took the three-day course, Scott presented evidence suggesting it was after February 2011, raising the question of whether the accused was disqualified from driving at the time of the incident.
He also indicated that the accused had a Novice 2 driver’s licence at the time of the incident, which requires zero blood alcohol content when behind the wheel. The accused said she did not remember her classification.
Court proceedings throughout the day were highly emotional, with the accused sobbing repeatedly.
She described the case as a heavy burden that had changed her own life and those of her family -- but said it was not representative of who she was.
“I’m not a bad person,” she said.
At one point, she referred to family members of the victim who were sitting in court.
“I look at this family right there and I wonder what they’re feeling,” she said through tears, drawing a comparison to her own six-month-old daughter.
“If anything ever happened to my little baby, I would be mad and it would take me a long time to forgive them.”
Following the testimony of the accused, defence lawyer Greg Chovin rested his case, with the Crown offering no rebuttal.
Closing statements are now expected, with the trial set to resume at the Court of Queen’s Bench on Thursday at 1 p.m.
Danielle Chamakese, 22, has pled not guilty to charges of criminal negligence causing death, dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death and failure to remain at the scene of an accident.