Edmonton woman not criminally responsible for stealing ambulance, judge rules

A 29-year-old woman has been found not criminally responsible for stealing an ambulance, then leading police on a 30-minute chase through the city.

'She was suffering from a mental disorder that rendered her incapable of knowing that her acts were wrong'

A judge says an Edmonton woman was not capable of knowing that stealing an ambulance from Royal Alexandra Hospital in 2016 was wrong due to her mental illness. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

A 29-year-old woman has been found not criminally responsible for stealing an ambulance and leading police on a 30-minute chase through the city.

The woman and her mother wiped away tears on Tuesday as Court of Queen's Bench Justice Wayne Renke read his decision in an Edmonton courtroom.

CBC has decided not to name the woman because she was mentally ill at the time of the incident.

Court heard the woman stole the ambulance at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in January 2016, crashed through the partially opened garage door, then raced away from police under the belief she needed to escape because was being sold into the sex trade.

A forensic psychiatrist told court on Monday the woman's hallucinations and delusions were the result of bipolar disorder, mania and psychosis.

'Not to blame'

On Tuesday, the judge agreed with that assessment, which was also the position of the Crown.

Renke said at the time of the incident the woman "was suffering from a mental disorder that rendered her incapable of knowing that her acts were wrong."

The judge also offered words of encouragement, prompting some nods from the woman and even a smile.

He told the woman she was "not to blame for what happened."

"I hope with good advice from her health-care professionals, good self-management and time (she) will put that mental disorder back into its box and it won't emerge again," Renke said.

The judge also thanked counsel for recognizing the woman's affliction and for the "focused, dignified and professional manner in which the issues were put before the court."

The woman will undergo a hearing by a review board to verify that she is complying with court orders to take her medication and undergo counselling to ensure she isn't a danger to the public.

'They're relieved'

Defence lawyer Dino Bottos said the legal process has been difficult for the woman and her family.

"They're relieved that it's now over and that the judge saw it our way, so they're hopeful to move on," said Bottos.

Bottos said his client's mother "tried to do everything possible at the time. It's sometimes difficult because people under the throes of mental illness don't  listen to reason."

But he said in general the case highlights the importance of alerting doctors or authorities when the mental health of a loved one is deteriorating.

"So that before anything tragic happens, the authorities have a chance to intervene and deal with the person who's deteriorating," said Bottos. "We really have to care for each other."
Defence Lawyer Dino Bottos says the case highlights the importance of looking out for the mental health of loved ones. (Emily Fitzpatrick CBC News)


andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar