The driver who crashed the raised bed of his dump truck into the superstructure of the Burlington Skyway bridge in southern Ontario in 2014 has been found guilty of dangerous driving.
But Ontario court of justice Judge Fred Campling on Monday also declared Sukhvinder Rai not guilty of mischief endangering life.
Rai, 36, of Brampton, Ont., was found guilty of just one of the four charges against him when the trial started earlier this month. Two of those charges, related to impaired driving, were thrown out by the judge after he ruled the Ontario Provincial Police mishandled the breath tests.
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Although those tests showed Rai had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream five hours after the crash, the judge ruled the breath tests inadmissible as evidence.
Last week, the court heard that a police officer held Rai in the back of a police vehicle for hours — mainly to keep him safe while on the bridge — but only suspected Rai had been drinking alcohol after 7 p.m., more than 3½ hours after the collision.
Campling ruled the breath tests and their analysis inadmissible because they were collected more than three hours after the collision.
That delay amounts to a violation of an accused's rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Campling ruled. He acquitted Rai on the impaired driving charges last week.
The Burlington Skyway was closed for four days following the crash and cost $1.2 million to repair.
After Monday's verdicts, defence attorney David Locke spoke about Rai's reaction.
"Mr. Rai is disappointed he was convicted of dangerous driving, but he's pleased that the judge acquitted him of the more serious charge of mischief endangering life, and of all the other charges he faced," Locke said.
"He's not surprised, but disappointed."
Rai's trial began at the beginning of the month. The court heard from a variety of witnesses brought forward from the Crown, including drivers who were injured in the incident, workers who were on the bridge when the dump truck struck the superstructure of the bridge, police officers who attended the scene, Rai's colleagues and technicians who spoke about the state of the truck.
In his final submissions, Crown prosecutor Todd Norman made the case that Rai intentionally raised the box on the dump truck, wilfully striking the superstructure on the bridge.
The evidence brought forward by experts who reviewed and tested the truck showed the controls were in good working order. In order for the box to have been raised, it must have been done wilfully, Norman said.
Even if it was somehow done accidentally, he said, Rai would have felt the change in the truck or seen the box going up through his window, and he should have stopped or done something to address the situation.
The power takeoff for the dump box was on before Rai entered the highway, but even with it left on, the dump box can't be raised accidentally, he said.
The collision left several people with injuries. Earlier in the trial, an OPP officer said he was surprised no one died in the incident.
Norman said Rai showed "a pattern of inattention." He said this was likely compounded by his consumption of alcohol.
Even though the breath tests were removed as evidence, the court heard testimony from an OPP officer that Rai had the smell of alcohol on his breath, Norman said.
A half-empty bottle of liquor was discovered in the cab of the truck and one can infer that Rai had been drinking in the truck before the crash, Norman said.
Locke said the Crown was not successful in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Rai wilfully damaged the Skyway bridge, but instead said "there is a complete lack of evidence," pertaining to this.
He said Rai mistakenly left the power takeoff on in the vehicle. The PTO enables the driver to put the box up by pulling another lever.
Earlier in the trial, the court heard from technicians that it was possible for the box to rise on its own if enough back pressure built up in the system with the PTO left on while driving.
Locke said it is unclear if this is what caused the bucket to go up, but it's speculative to say that Rai put it up on his own.
There were no obvious signs that might suggest the box on the back of the truck was raised, Locke said.
"There were no safety systems in this truck. Zero," he said. "It was deficient."
The court also heard there was an industry-wide problem with truck drivers leaving the PTO on.
As for the evidence of consumption of alcohol, Locke said there wasn't enough admissible evidence to prove he was under the influence.
The judge addressed both arguments made by Norman and Locke. He said considering all the evidence, including the lack of a motive, he could not find Rai guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of deliberately raising the box.
He said he was unable to find Rai guilty of mischief endangering life, as mischief requires the Crown to prove that Rai wilfully raised the dump box.
"You should not have been driving with the PTO on," he said, adding he also should have noticed the box was raised. It's "something you should have felt as you drove along."
Campling said the evidence suggesting Rai had been drinking contributed toward the dangerous driving conviction. While it's not clear how much alcohol was actually consumed, Campling said the drinking of alcohol increases the risk while driving, and contributes to making errors like not checking the PTO or noticing the box was going up.
Sentencing will occur on June 6. Rai's dangerous driving charge comes with a maximum prison sentence of up to five years, and a driving prohibition of up to 10 years on top of that.