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Crown downgrades charge in trucker trial

A Thunder Bay truck driver has been on trial for negligence causing death in relation to a collision that claimed the life of an off-duty OPP officer
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The Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse is pictured in this file photo. Michael Purvis/SooToday

The Crown alerted the court Tuesday that it will be seeking the conviction of a transport driver involved in a fatal collision three years ago on a different charge than the one he now faces.

Gary Tyska, of Thunder Bay, has pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death in connection with a Feb. 13, 2014 crash that took the life of an off-duty police officer near Blind River.

Prosecutor Karen Pritchard told Superior Court Justice Edward Gareau that, at the end of the trial, which began a week ago, the Crown will ask that a verdict of guilty to the lesser, included charge of dangerous operation be rendered.

She said this follows the Crown's decision that it will not be asking the court to designate an Ontario Provincial Police collision reconstructionist as an expert witness.

Defence counsel Kate Brindley said that since the prosecution has indicated that it no longer seeks to prove the cause of the collision and the cause of death, that this be stated on the record, since the Crown is "significantly changing evidence."

Pritchard agreed that the Crown will not be leading any evidence on these two areas.

Const. David Dennie, 36, an officer with the Blind River Ontario Provincial Police detachment was killed in the collision which occurred at 6:50 a.m. on Highway 17, just east of the community.

Tyska was behind the wheel of a tractor trailor, owned by ABI Trucking Inc., of Thunder Bay, that was making a return trip of a Purolator run between the northwestern Ontario city and the Toronto area.

On Tuesday, Gareau heard from three OPP officers, co-workers of Dennie, who had just started day shifts at the detachment, when they were called to a collision scene that morning.

All three described themselves as a friend of the deceased.

Const. David Wilson and Const. Paul Black were dispatched to a crash with injuries, involving a transport and a jeep, on the highway at 6:50 a.m., but it wasn't clear if it was east or west of the community.

Wilson testified that they decided he would go eastbound and Black would head west from the detachment.

As he was heading east, he saw emergency services leaving the nearby hospital.

Wilson said he was flagged down by three women at 6:54 a.m. — one of whom asked for a flashlight to look inside an upside down jeep that was in a snow bank. 

He told Pritchard he smashed out the rear windows to allow more light to see inside.

EMS arrived seconds later, and crawled into the back and began to assess Dennie.

Firefighters were called to extract him from the vehicle, but "there was no way we could get him out."

"He was impaled with snow in the vehicle." 

Wilson said he contacted a superior to let him know that an officer was involved in the collision.

The officer said the road was wet and clear, "you could see the yellow lines," and there was a light snowfall that was not accumulating on the highway.

He testified that he taped off the eastside of the highway, and "stayed by Dave's side until I was relieved at 9:25 a.m."

Wilson indicated that he saw the transport, "way past the beaten path" in a bush area on the treeline, facing westward on the southside of the highway, but had no contact with the driver.

"You were upset" and "in shock?" Brindley asked him during cross-examination. 

"I was," he responded,

When Black took the witness stand, he said when he arrived at the scene, he recognized Dennie's jeep, but initially didn't know if he was the driver.

But he saw the look on Wilson's face, and the paramedics said "there was nothing they could do, he was gone," he told assistant Crown attorney Marie-Eve Talbot.

The 11-year officer said he ran down to where the tractor trailer was, and saw Const. Chris Pritchard blocking the the scene.

A man was getting out of the transport and was walking towards Pritchard, said Black, indicating he returned to the jeep, where he was told to hold the scene and not to interview anyone since officers from another detachment were on the way to do that.

During cross-examination, he indicated he spoke with Phil Bellerose, a transport driver who told him he didn't witness the hit,  but he was travelling eastward and had to avoid a westbound tractor trailer in his lane.

Black said he doesn't believe that he communicated that information to other officers.

He agreed with Brindley it was possible he shared the information. "I could have told them."

Const. Pritchard testified that he arrived at the crash scene about 7 a.m., where he saw paramedics climbing inside a green jeep to get a response from the male inside.

He said that after a while he realized he didn't see the second vehicle involved in the collision.

"Someone pointed out it was behind me, to the west where I'd driven from," the officer said. "I walked back there, saw the transport, facing westward, well back in the trees."

Pritchard said as he approached the tractor trailer, he saw a man coming through the snow from the direction of the truck.

The man spoke to him and Black, and he put him inside his cruiser.

After a discussion with one of the paramedics, Pritchard said he spoke to the man again, gave him a caution on charges of criminal negligence and dangerous driving.

At 7:17 a.m. Tyska, who complained of chest pain, was put in into an ambulance and taken to the hospital.

Pritchard said he then moved his car further west to an intersection to block traffic from approaching.

He then followed the path to the tractor trailer, where at 7:34 a.m., he obtained a log book and documents from the truck.

Pritchard told Brindley he doesn't recall being told not to interview anyone, adding "I wouldn't (do that)."

He said he was advised that other officers, not from Blind River, were coming to relieve himself and his shift mates, and they would be taking over.

Pritchard indicated he was at the hospital by 8:30 a.m., spoke to the doctor treating Tyska and then remained outside his room.

He agreed that when Tyska was being attended to by medical staff, he could hear what was being said when the door was open.

"You took notes of what you believed he was saying and what the nurse was saying," Brindley suggested.

"Yes," the officer responded.

He conceded that it was possible he could have told the officer that relieved him of information Black gave him about a witness saying the transport had crossed the line.

But then said, "It was not likely. I was being relieved, other people were coming to take over the investigation."

Pritchard said he wasn't interviewed about his involvement in the investigation — something the other officers also told the court.

EDITOR'S NOTE: SooToday does not allow comments on court stories



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About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 35 years.
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