A Calgary-area truck driver who said he was "having a bad day" was
found guilty of manslaughter Thursday in a horrific collision that
killed five people in December 2007.
Daniel Tschetter drove his cement truck erratically, weaving in and out
of traffic at high speed hurtling into the rear-end of a car stopped at
a red light, spreading debris 300 metres.
"This is not an ordinary automobile. It is a cement truck. It
is 10 times the size and strength and weight of the average vehicle on
the road," said Justice Bruce Fraser of the Alberta Court of Queen's
"Most other vehicles on the road are at its mercy if it runs
them down. His conduct ... demonstrates a wanton and reckless disregard
for the lives or safety of others," he added.
Chris Gautreau, 41, and his two daughters, Alexia, 9, and
Kiarra, 6, his girlfriend Melaina Hovdebo, 33, and her son,
16-month-old Zachary Morrison, were killed in the Dec. 7, 2007 crash.
The Chrysler Intrepid they were riding in was so mangled, said
Fraser, that first responders to the scene "could not see the three
dead children in the back of the car."
Tschetter, 51, was originally charged with five counts each of
manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death. He bowed his head
as Fraser found him guilty. The only sound in the packed courtroom was
a loud sob from his daughter, who then cried quietly, wiping away
Fraser said the truck driver, who resides in Cochrane, Alta.,
was guilty of all charges but he set aside criminal negligence in
favour of the more serious counts of manslaughter. It is rarely applied
in cases involving motor vehicles.
A makeshift memorial, including several children's toys and
stuffed animals, remain at the scene of the crash. The victims were
going Christmas shopping.
Family members sat quietly throughout the court proceeding.
Afterward, they gathered in quiet solidarity as they faced reporters.
"The only thing I can think of is that I've always wanted these
kids' voices to be heard and it was heard today. I think we're setting
a precedent for the future," Lee Morrison said softly of his son
"I know the right decision was made. We've gone through horror and the right decision was made."
Morrison's brother-in-law Herb Grieder, wearing a picture of his nephew on a lanyard around his neck, applauded the verdict.
"We've been here as a family. We've gone through this tragedy as
a family and now we will heal together as a family," Grieder said.
"This is the closing of the book for the tragedy and the opening of the book for the healing."
Tschetter was allowed to remain free on bail until his
sentencing on Aug. 5. A full day is being set aside as many family
members had expressed a desire to read victim impact statements.
"He's going to go to jail for a long time and he should start
his sentence now," said Crown Prosecutor Jonathan Hak in opposing his
"The Crown is certainly satisfied. It's a good result," said Hak of the manslaughter conviction.
"It's very rare. I'd be surprised if there were more than a handful or so."
Defence lawyer Balfour Der was disappointed with the outcome and
had argued his client was only guilty of dangerous driving causing
"He's almost in a state of shock. He's almost numb," said Der of Tschetter's response.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life in prison but
there is no minimum. De is hopeful that he will be able to spare his
client any time and is hoping for a suspended sentence.
"There are five people dead and shouldn't someone go to jail?
That's the reaction of a lot of people but it's not as if he tried to
kill anyone," explained Der.
"In this case we have to look at the man himself and make the
determination if he should go to jail and I'm going to do my best to
keep him out of jail."