Truck driver acquitted in fatal accident involving 11 year old boy
A provincial court judge has acquitted a Langley trucker of driving without due care and attention in connection with the death of an 11-year-old New Westminster boy on a bicycle two years ago.
Justice Daniel Steinberg, however, did find Bruce Douglas Harris, 54, guilty of driving with brakes that were not in working order and failing to comply with trip inspection requirements, although those infractions, Steinberg said, did not play a role in the accident. Harris was fined a total of $1,461 by Steinberg in New Westminster Provincial Court on Friday.
At about 8:30 a.m. on June 7, 2010, Christian Mesa was riding his bike on the Sixth Avenue sidewalk in front of the firehall headed toward McBride Boulevard on his way to his Grade 6 class at Glenbrook middle school. He was hit by a truck turning right off of Sixth onto McBride as Mesa entered the intersection to cross McBride, and died a few hours later in hospital.
Harris had just dropped off a bin at a construction site on Ginger Drive. To get back onto McBride, he turned left off of Ginger onto Sixth Avenue across from the Canada Games Pool parking lot.
Steinberg said the court heard during the trial that when he got up to the light at McBride, Harris was behind another stopped vehicle. After it turned right, Harris edged his truck into the intersection to check to see if McBride was clear before turning.
The court also heard Harris arrived at the intersection before Mesa caught up to the traffic stopped at McBride, and that in the short distance he drove between Ginger and McBride, Harris likely would not have noticed the youngster riding.
Steinberg said he heard testimony that differed from witness to witness. The judge said a driver stopped on McBride headed north insisted he saw a child on a bike stop at the intersection, hit the pedestrian crossing button several times and then proceed when the walk sign came on and the pedestrian warning signal started chirping. That witness also said Harris kept looking left and did not turn his head to the right toward the sidewalk.
After the accident the truck did not stop, but the witness caught up with it at Eighth Avenue and waived the driver over to tell him he had hit a child. The witness said Harris didn't believe he'd hit anything until he saw the bicycle caught up in his wheels of his truck and then turned pale.
Despite that witness's testimony, Steinberg recounted that of several others who said Mesa was pedaling fast, looking straight ahead and did not slow down or stop to push the button. One said he yelled, 'No,' in his car because the child was not looking at the truck as he rode along.
In his decision, Steinberg said a schoolmate of Mesa's, who did not witness the accident, testified he had on three occasions seen Mesa approach the intersection without looking, and warned him he was putting himself in danger. On one of those occasions, a car turning right stopped abruptly to avoid hitting Mesa.
Extensive testing and re-creation of the accident was done by collision experts and New Westminster police in an attempt to determine what Harris could or could not have seen in his mirrors. Steinberg said there were many inconsistencies between the testing and Harris's circumstances, preventing him from coming to any conclusion.
Harris testified he did check his blind spots to make sure there were no pedestrians or cyclists.
"There is no reason to disbelieve Harris's evidence that he checked [to make sure it was clear to turn]," said Steinberg.
At the end of the proceedings, Steinberg spoke directly to Harris in a subdued but stern tone.
"There is a responsibility in driving a large truck and it encompasses every element about everything around you and ensuring your truck is in good and complete working order. If nothing else this demonstrates the tragic outcome of what could happen. It was a situation that invited some other form of tragedy," said Steinberg to Harris. "Never forget your connection with the Mesa family."
Outside the courtroom, defence counsel Allan Watchorn said he and his client were pleased with the outcome. He said the charge of driving without due care and attention should never have gone to trial, "but the Crown didn't agree with me."
Occasionally during the reading of the decision, Harris could be heard sniffling in an effort to choke back tears. The accident has affected Harris and will continue to do so, said Watchorn. "[The feeling] unfortunately doesn't go away."
Several members of Mesa's family and friends were in the courtroom and could be seen dabbing their eyes even before the judge made his entrance. They all declined to be interviewed afterward.
In May, Mesa's mother Rita filed a civil suit against Harris, Prompt Waste Management and ICBC over her son's death. No date has been scheduled for that suit to go to trial.