LETHBRIDGE – There were several heated and potentially significant moments as day two went ahead in the dangerous driving causing death trial of City of Lethbridge employee, Scott Edward Erickson.
The charge stems from the Nov. 13, 2015, death of 72-year-old Alan Johnston, who was killed after the minivan he was driving hit the back of the front-end loader that Erickson was operating on Whoop-Up Drive that afternoon.
As part of evidence being entered by the Crown on Tuesday, Mar. 6, transportation operations manager for the city, Lee Perkins, took the stand.
While being questioned by Crown prosecutor Bruce Ainscough, Perkins stated a number of times that the use of a front-end loader to scoop up snow on Whoop-Up Drive was not a standard city practice. When asked if he ever would have authorized such an effort, he said “Absolutely not.” He agreed that water runoff from the melting snow along the median could freeze overnight and cause a safety issue but said sand and salt should have been used on the road instead.
Perkins added that in the eight years he has held the post in Lethbridge, he didn’t recall another time where a front-end loader was used to remove snow on that particular roadway. He also pointed out that about 30 other employees were available that day and could have assisted Erickson with the job.
At one point during Perkin’s testimony, he said that his first priority when he heard about the collision was to call Erickson and make sure he was alright, prompting Erickson to shake his head ‘no’ at the defendant’s table.
It was during cross examination by the defence that Erickson became visibly agitated by some of Perkin’s answer.
Defence lawyer Balfour Der asked Perkins if Erickson had been hired for the job because he had shown an ability to exercise good judgement through casual work he had done for the city. Perkins responded, “I believe he was written up for unsafe practices,” but then said, “He’s met with me before,” when confronted by Der on the issue.
“That’s OK, Scott,” Der then said to his client, as Erickson turned a dark shade of red.
Under questions from Der, Perkins admitted that prior to the fatal collision, the city did not have a written policy to make employees use a blocker truck or from working on Whoop-Up Drive at certain times of the day when sun glare could be an issue. He also noted that employees were allowed to use any equipment they were qualified on to do the job, with nothing preventing them from using a front-end loader on Whoop-Up.
One of the most significant developments came when Der asked Perkins about an email he had sent to a number of his superiors within the City of Lethbridge, about two-hours after the collision.
“This is normal practice,” Der quoted from the email, in which Perkins explained that Erickson had been removing snow from the concrete median on the west bound side of Whoop-Up.
“I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind,” Perkins replied, as Der asked about the quote.
With Der continuing to press, he asked Perkins if he believed the collision was the result of poor supervision – specifically asking about Erickson’s foreman – to which Perkins stated, “I believe it was a bunch of systems that broke down.”
As part of the cross exam and during a re-examination by Ainscough, Perkins tried to clarify the particular quote from the email by saying it was normal practice to remove snow from other areas in the city with lower traffic volumes, but said it was not a standard practice for Whoop-Up.
Earlier in the day, the Crown called Gene Lublinkhof to testify.
Lublinkhof said he had driven by the scene about 15 minutes before the collision occurred, as he travelled west on Whoop-Up Drive in the right-hand lane.
“I saw it sort of last minute,” he stated, referring to the front-end loader that was in the left lane, and adding that sun glare at the time was making it difficult to see.
He said that immediately after going by it, the loader cut behind him and headed for the right side of the road, forcing a number of vehicles further behind him to slow down quickly.
“I would have had to break severally,” Lublinkhof then told the court, had he been in the same lane. “I was concerned there could be an accident.”
Under cross examination, Der confirmed that Lublinkhof had been driving at about 90 km/h at the time he passed the loader and asked if he felt it was unsafe to be travelling at such as rate of speed, based on his testimony about the sun glare.
“I didn’t think so, no,” was Lublinkhof’s reply, before adding, “Perhaps, maybe, I was going too fast as well.”
Trial to take a one-day break
With day two complete, the trial will now take Wednesday off, before returning for Thursday, Friday and Monday.
The Crown is expected to call several more witnesses, and Der stated in court that his client intends to take the stand as well.
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