Trucker guilty in deadly 2017 Highway 401 pileup near Prescott

The back entrance to the courthouse in Brockville, Ont. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

BROCKVILLE – A Quebec truck driver has been found guilty on all charges for causing a chain-reaction pileup on Highway 401 near Prescott in 2017 that killed two people and injured three others.

In her nearly three-hour decision delivered this morning (April 23), Judge Adriana Doyle found Jamil Qureshi guilty of two counts of dangerous driving causing death and three counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Qureshi showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

Court heard how a line of two transports followed by three vehicles were all travelling slowly – about 40 kilometers an hour – or were almost stopped in the right eastbound lane on Nov. 27, 2017 around 10:30 p.m. Qureshi’s Volvo transport – travelling at 104 kilometers an hour with the cruise control on – plowed into the back of the line.

The last vehicle in the chain – a Dodge Dakota pickup truck – burst into flames on impact, killing the occupants, John Keeler and his daughter, Tiffany Keeler. Three people in two other vehicles were hurt in the chain-reaction pileup.

The evidence presented at a 30-day trial showed that the traffic had slowed down in reaction to the first truck in the chain that was likely “rubbernecking” at a crash cleanup site in the westbound lanes. The section of Highway 401 where the crash happened was straight, flat and it was a clear night with no precipitation. The speed limit was 100 kilometers an hour.

Between the flood lights at the cleanup scene on the other side of the highway, the emergency vehicles with their lights on and the line of stopped traffic either with their four-ways flashers on or tapping their brakes, Doyle ruled that “any reasonable person would have seen the cues” and slowed down.

“I find beyond a reasonable doubt that the visual cues ahead of Mr. Qureshi were sufficient to take some action to avoid the risk,” Doyle said.

The judge added that professional drivers like Qureshi, who had been driving for five years and told police he travelled Highway 401 twice a week, are held to a higher standard.

“I find that a reasonable person would have foreseen that doing nothing when approaching a tractor-trailer that has its four-way flashers and vehicles braking can create a real risk of collision within seconds,” the judge said.

Give the facts, Doyle says this couldn’t be considered a momentary lapse in judgment. “This was not a momentary lapse of attention case.”

Although evidence presented at trial showed Qureshi had been driving for at least 32 hours straight on a round trip from Quebec to West Virginia, in clear violation of the law, Doyle decided the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that fatigue was a factor in the collision.

Sentencing is set for Sept. 23, 2021 in order for the court to receive a pre-sentence report, that is expected to take three months to prepare due to the pandemic.