B.C. man convicted after 'recklessly' fleeing scene of fatal crash in Surrey
Christopher Lennox Griffith claimed he didn't know he'd hit anyone and was fleeing a hostile situation
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that Christopher Lennox Griffith drove in an "egregiously reckless" manner when he fled the scene of a conflict, struck and killed a 40 year-old man he didn't know, then failed to notify police.
Griffith was found guilty on Friday of criminal negligence in operation of a motor vehicle and failing to remain at the scene.
The charges stem from a series that events that took place in August of 2013 in the parking lot of the Royal Canadian Legion in Surrey.
Griffith — then 31 years old — testified that after having several drinks, he and a friend drove to the so-called "Surrey Strip" so that they could buy drugs. They parked in the lot of the Surrey Legion and Griffith waited in the car as his friend went to look for drugs.
Griffith said he encountered a woman whom he paid for sex, and the two drove to a different location.
When they returned to the area where he picked her up, Griffith testified that a group of people — some of whom were known to the woman — surrounded his truck and began yelling. He told the court some were carrying pipes as weapons and began approaching his truck aggressively.
Griffith got out of the vehicle and testified that he tried to reason with those surrounding his truck, but he said the crowd continued to behave in a menacing fashion. He revved his engine, lurched his truck forward, then turned left as the crowd scattered to the right.
He sped down 135A street and that's when he hit Robert Paterson.
Justice Jim Williams described Paterson as "an innocent bystander" who had no connection to the dispute that was happening. He was a homeless man who was staying at a machine shop in the area with his common-law partner. Williams said Paterson only walked toward the area because heard the shouting in the nearby lot and went to see what was happening.
Witnesses said Paterson had his back to the truck when he was struck and killed.
Defence of necessity, self defence rejected
Griffith's lawyer tried to argue self defence and necessity in justifying his client's actions. He said he fled the scene at a high speed because he was afraid for his life.
Justice Williams accepted that it was a hostile situation for Griffith but ruled there was no need to drive away at such a high speed after he had pulled away from those who were threatening him.
"The manner in which he drove was manifestly and egregiously reckless," said Williams.
"To have driven forward with the speed and force he did substantially enhanced the risk of his conduct. He had no idea what he would encounter, and as I noted, it was reasonable in the circumstances to expect there might be other persons in the area he traversed."
Griffith also testified that he wasn't aware that he hit someone, but Justice Williams rejected that claim. He explained that Griffith told police in a statement that he knew he'd hit someone and described the series of events in detail using cups and a Kleenex box.
After the incident, Griffith parked his car and called for a taxi. Justice Williams said he did not call 911 or police.
"There was no basis to conclude that [Griffith] was making his way to return to the scene in a timely fashion."
A date for sentencing will be set on March 30.