Martin William Gentles has been found not guilty of impaired driving or dangerous driving causing the death of 20-year-old Rayel MacDonald and bodily harm to Alysha Mullett.
“On the limited evidence provided prior to the point of the collision I am not able to find that he is guilty of dangerous driving causing death or causing bodily harm beyond any reasonable doubt which is required in criminal law,” Justice John D. Truscott said as he read out his verdict Tuesday in BC Supreme Court in Williams Lake.
As many as 75 family, friends and support workers of MacDonald, Mullett and Gentles packed the standing-room-only courtroom, while five sheriffs and three armed RCMP officers stood at the doorway and on both sides of the room.
Thirty-year-old Gentles sat quietly in the prisoner’s box, just as he had throughout the entirety of the three-week trial held in November and December.
As court was adjourned, defence counsel Ken Walker told media that neither he nor Gentles would be providing comment.
Rayel’s parents, David and Andrea MacDonald were on hand for the decision and later told the Tribune they were devastated with the outcome and ready to talk about it.
“We’ve been quiet long enough,” Andrea said. “It’s felt like there was a chess game on and it was our lives.”
Andrea said the family feels as if they have been victimized all over again through the court system and don’t know what to do next.
“You just think, ‘what’s the use?’” she said. “The justice system is so broken that good people are destroyed by it.”
Truscott did rule beyond a reasonable doubt that Gentles was impaired by alcohol as he drove down Carson Drive toward the collision, but said the law required him to find that it was the effect of his impairment on Gentles’ driving that caused death and bodily harm.
Because of the “limited evidence” at the trial of how the collision occurred, Truscott said he was unable to rule that Gentles’ impaired condition caused the collision.
“How does that add up?” David told the Tribune. “How do you get convicted of impaired driving but you’re not held responsible for what you’ve done.”
During the decision, Truscott also said there was not enough evidence to suggest Gentles should have been aware that MacDonald and Mullett were going to proceed into the southbound lane with any sufficient time for him to have avoided the collision at 2:15 a.m. on April 22, 2012.
“It appears from all the evidence that these two girls unfortunately walked into the path of Mr. Gentles’ vehicle when it was almost upon them,” Truscott said, earlier noting that evidence given at the trial documented an 11-metre skid mark made by Gentles’ vehicle before the collision.
Gentles was, however, found guilty of fleeing the scene.
“His mode of driving described by Staff Sgt. Brissard and Const. MacKinnon as he left the scene of fishtailing and careening around corners and proceeding through stop signs without stopping convinces me beyond a reasonable doubt that he left the scene of the collision to avoid criminal or civil liability without stopping to render assistance,” Truscott said.
Sentencing was deferred as Walker requested a pre-sentencing report on Gentles, which could take six to eight weeks.
Walker also said he’d be making an application for delay, which Truscott acknowledged.
“If I find there’s been delay in the law, then there won’t be any sentencing,” Truscott said.
MacDonald grew up on a farm in Big Lake, graduated from Williams Lake Secondary and was a second year nursing student at the time of her death.
A bench in her honour was installed near the site of the collision in April 2013.