Kirkwood not guilty in 2015 fatal crash near Chesterville

Entrance for the SD&G Provincial Offences Act courtroom at 26 Pitt Street in Cornwall, Ont. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

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CORNWALL – A Chesterville mother has been found not guilty of careless driving in a head-on crash in February 2015, which killed Morrisburg lawyer Peter Remillard.

Justice of the Peace Karen Baum delivered her verdict this afternoon (Tuesday) before the Provincial Offences Court gallery – the first two rows of which were filled with family members of the accused and the victim.

Catriona Kirkwood, 42, had been involved in a head-on collision in the middle of a curve on County Road 7 near St. Mary’s Road, south of Chesterville. Kirkwood’s Dodge Journey had crossed the center line and collided with Remillard’s BMW X5 SUV. Remillard died shortly after while being transported to hospital by ambulance.

Baum ruled that the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kirkwood had been operating her vehicle without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for others on the highway.

Most of the case centered on the interpretation of data from the computer inside Kirkwood’s Dodge Journey.

The judge accepted the defence suggestion it was a momentary loss of steering control.

Based on the computer analysis, and with no witnesses to the crash, Baum ruled the actions recorded on the vehicle’s computer showed a “momentary driving error while negotiating a curve or a momentary loss of steering control, and that there was an initiation in an attempt to correct it.”

Baum accepted the defence argument and evidence from the computer showing Kirkwood had tried to avoid the crash in the milliseconds before impact.

“I accept Mr. Jenning’s (William Jennings, forensic engineer for the defence) opinion that the steering angle change to the right is driver input as is the corresponding drop in accelerator pressure. I accept that both are pre-crash data, sampled prior to impact, and not at the time of impact,” Baum ruled.

“I accept…(that it) is consistent with what would be expected if the driver was reacting to something, and that it is driver input,” she said.

The O.P.P. witness for the prosecution had argued the sudden change in steering direction was the force of the wheel being moved after impact.

During the trial, court heard about a cell phone wedged between the windshield and the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. Baum said any idea of where the cell phone was in the moments before the crash was cause for “speculation.”

“To conclude that the phone was in Ms. Kirkwood’s hands, at the time of the collision would be speculation. There is speculation of where the phone may have been in the starting position at the time of the crash – in the console, on the passenger’s seat, in the driver’s lap, in the cup holder, on the dashboard – and to how it ended up in its resting position from the force of the impact of the crash,” she said.

There was no evidence during the trial that Kirkwood’s phone was connected to the cellular network during the time of the collision between 8:40 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. on February 24, 2015.

Baum did not accept the defence’s theories that the morning sun played a factor in the crash nor its interpretation of when the Dodge crossed the center line due to some missing data (specific portions of the data were missing: steering yaw rate and wheel speed).

Following the verdict, Kirkwood was crying and being consoled by family members.

Family of Peter Remillard were also distraught at the verdict and quickly left the Pitt Street courtroom.