Erratic driving, speeding before deadly Calgary crash, court hears
Driver tossed bottle of vodka into back of truck after collision, Crown alleges
A cement truck driver was driving quickly and erratically before slamming into a car carrying five people, killing all of them, a Calgary manslaughter trial heard Monday.
Daniel Tschetter, 50, is charged with five counts of manslaughter, five counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of obstruction of justice. A charge of failing to take a breath sample was withdrawn because of a lack of evidence.
In an opening statement on the first day of the trial Monday, Crown prosecutor Jonathan Hak said Tschetter was driving back to Calgary from a job pouring a basement in Nanton, about 90 kilometres south of the city.
Hak said the truck was travelling at "frightening" speeds when it plowed into a car carrying two adults and three children on Dec. 7, 2007. He said Tschetter looked at the wrecked car after the crash and then tossed a vodka bottle into the rear hopper of the truck.
Defence lawyer Balfour Der conceded on Monday that his client discarded a liquor bottle, but not that he was drinking.
"The [thing] we have agreed to is that this bottle that was put into the cement truck was a bottle of vodka," he told reporters outside the courthouse.
Chris Gautreau, 41, and his daughters, Alexia, 9, and Kiarra, 6, were killed in the crash, along with Gautreau's fiancée, Melaina Hovdebo, 33, and her 16-month-old son, Zachary.
Martin Malaska, who was driving on Highway 2 with his 10-year-old daughter, testified that the cement truck passed him in the left lane going 20 km/h over the posted speed limit.
"The cement truck was driving on the shoulder going in and out," he told the judge-only trial on Monday. "It was spitting up gravel as it went by — weaving back and forth. It didn't look right."
As the cement truck slowed on a hill, Malaska pulled alongside to get the company phone number off the truck.
Malaska recalled he was telling the receptionist who answered his call about the erratic driving when he saw the truck smash into the back of a car that was waiting with others at a red light at Macleod Trail and 194th Avenue Southwest.
Malaska said the brake lights didn't come on, even as the truck dragged the car about 275 metres through the intersection, with the car ending up lodged under the bigger vehicle.
He testified that he ran up yelling at the cement truck driver but saw that he had a blank look on his face.
"He mumbled something to me. I didn't understand what he said," Malaska said in provincial court. "His face was glazed. No emotion. A blank, glazed look in his face."
Herman Jans, who was driving a tractor trailer full of nitrogen on the night of the collision, testified Monday that he saw a cement truck pass him on the shoulder of Highway 2.
"I would say [rearview] mirror to mirror, he was about a foot away," Jans said. He said that the truck pulled back and forth in the driving lanes and never used the signal light.
The Calgary courtroom was packed with the victims' friends and family, some who wore clothing with photos of the deceased.
With files from Peter Akman, Elizabeth Snaddon and the Canadian Press