A young Pelican Lake woman has been found guilty on two of three charges in relation to a fatal hit-and-run outside Stavros Lounge in September 2010.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Shielded by supporters, Danielle Chamakese (covering face with white paper) leaves the Court of Queen’s Bench on Friday after being found guilty of failure to remain at the scene of an accident and dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death in relation to a fatal hit-and-run outside Stavros Lounge in September 2010. Sentencing will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m.
Judge R.S. Smith found Danielle Chamakese, 22, guilty of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing the death of 21-year-old Prince Albert resident Daniel Carter, as well as failure to remain at the scene of an accident.
By contrast, the judge found her not guilty of criminal negligence causing death.
Noting that the legal bar was set much higher for the latter charge, Smith argued that the Crown had failed to adequately establish awareness or wilful blindness on the part of Chamakese.
Following the judge’s verdict, defence counsel Greg Chovin recommended a pre-sentence report to examine all sentencing options, a process which typically takes at least eight weeks.
Smith agreed and adjourned court until Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m., when he will pronounce the final sentence for Chamakese.
Commenting on the day’s developments, the victim’s stepfather Robert Burns noted, “It’s been a difficult three years -- for not just (Carter’s) family but all of his friends -- and I’m sure it will continue to be a difficult time for many years to come.
“I guess we’ve had some type of a conclusion today with the remarks and what the judge has told us, and I guess we just now wait again until Dec. 11.”
The judge began his remarks to the court by declaring that there was no pronouncement, no words or judgment he could offer that would be adequate to address the pain felt by the victim’s family. Only the passage of time and the gift of joyful memories, he said, could help them honour his memory by moving forward.
The job of the court, Smith said, was to offer a clinical analysis of events based on available evidence. In that regard, he said that the broad contours of what happened on the night of Sept. 19, 2010 were not in dispute.
While Chamakese offered several different versions of how much she drank that night, based on her testimony and that of her companion that night, Jalissa Couture, the judge was inclined to believe Chamakese had had a few drinks at the time of the incident.
He pointed to the testimony of two witnesses who saw Chamakese walk to her car with the glow of her cellphone visible, before backing into another vehicle and then driving away.
In explaining the guilt of Chamakese for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, Smith noted that the Crown was required to prove that actions taken differed from what a “reasonably prudent” person would have done under the circumstances.
Video footage of the parking lot behind Stavros Lounge indicated that the area was busy, with considerable vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Smith also noted the presence of a large truck blocking Chamakese’s view as she turned the corner.
When factoring in the darkness of the environment, Smith said that a reasonable person would have known to slow down. Witness testimony, however, was fairly unanimous in suggesting that Chamakese drove out of the parking lot fairly quickly.
Evidence gathered after her arrest from an undercover police officer, whom Chamakese believed to be another defendant in custody, confirmed that conjecture.
“They caught it all on camera. That’s their evidence,” Chamakese told the officer, saying that she had panicked after she hit the car and then “drove out really fast.”
Smith noted that Chamakese was aware that she had a few drinks, that she was in a busy place and that her view was obscured, yet she accelerated quickly out of the parking lot. Such conduct, in his view, constituted dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, and he therefore found Chamakese guilty on that charge.
Any sentence they give her isn’t going to bring Daniel back. Karen Anthony-Burns
The judge then turned to testimony from a warned statement made by Chamakese to an officer following her arrest, in which she indicated that while worried she had bumped someone with her car, she didn’t think she had hurt him.
Smith dismissed the idea that Chamakese had hit Carter with the side of her car. He pointed to testimony from witness Derek Labiuk, who reported seeing her vehicle rise up and down at least once as if it were travelling over a speed bump.
Autopsy reports also identified the cause of Carter’s death as blunt force trauma to the head, torso and extremities, which would be consistent with being run over rather than bumped with the side of a car.
When the officer hearing Chamakese’s warned statement asked her why she failed to stop, the accused indicated she was scared of the potential “consequences.” Smith argued that the consequences in question were fear of more trouble with SGI.
Rejecting the possibility that Chamakese did not believe she had hit anyone, Smith argued that she did know, but that she tried to talk herself out of it, and that her first instinct was to flee the scene -- thereby satisfying the requirements of guilt for the charge of leaving the scene of an accident.
However, Smith said that the Crown failed to adequately prove that Chamakese showed wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of others as required by the Criminal Code, thus proclaiming her not guilty of criminal negligence causing death.
Commenting on the verdict offered by Judge Smith, Carter’s mother Karen Anthony-Burns said it was roughly in line with what family members had been expecting.
“Even from reading and researching, we kind of had a sense that that’s the way it was going to go,” she said.
“Thank goodness that they did find her guilty on the other two. That’s a good thing.”
She declined to speculate on possible sentences that would be imposed on Chamakese.
“I don’t even want to guess at that, because just kind of seeing what (community organization) Families for Justice is posting all the time, it seems like it’s all over the place,” Anthony-Burns said.
“The sentences always seem like they’re quite light. Any sentence they give her isn’t going to bring Daniel back.”
Pending her sentencing in December, Chamakese will remain under the same bail conditions as before.