Edmonton woman who stole ambulance, sparked police chase, was mentally ill, court told

An Edmonton woman who stole an ambulance from a hospital bay and sparked a police chase through the city in January 2016 was mentally ill at the time, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench was told Monday.

Defence and Crown agree the woman was not capable of knowing right from wrong

The ambulance bay doors on the east side of the Royal Alexandra Hospital were damaged when a patient stole an ambulance in January 2016. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

An Edmonton woman who stole an ambulance from a hospital bay and sparked a police chase through the city in January 2016 was mentally ill at the time, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench was told Monday.

Defence lawyer Dino Bottos argued at the one-day trial that his client was not criminally responsible due to bipolar disorder. She suffered from mania and psychosis that caused her to believe she had to escape because she was about to be sold into the sex trade, he said.

Crown prosecutor Kristen Logan agreed there was "ample evidence" that the woman's mental illness "rendered her incapable of knowing what she was doing was morally wrong."

The woman pleaded not guilty as family members listened from the gallery.

In-patient at Royal Alex Hospital

According to an agreed statement of facts, the woman was a voluntary psychiatric in-patient at the Royal Alexandra Hospital on a January morning in 2016 when she went outside to smoke a cigarette. She jumped into the ambulance, drove through the partially open garage door and flipped on the emergency lights.

Police chased the ambulance through the city on icy roads, sometimes at speeds of up to 120 km/h as she headed north along 82nd Street and 97th Street.

"Other vehicles on the roadway were respecting the ambulance's active emergency lights and were clearing out of the way," the statement said.

The woman drove onto Anthony Henday Drive and eventually Yellowhead Trail, with three RCMP vehicles in pursuit.

At times she used the ambulance radio to sing made-up rap lyrics.

Half an hour later, the woman pulled into a Shell gas station and was arrested, according to the agreed statement of facts. She said she wasn't going to run anymore because she was cold and needed to use the washroom. She later swore at police while being read her rights.

Woman suffered from hallucinations

On Monday, the defence's only witness, Dr. Funto Orimalade, testified that the woman believed she was supposed to meet her make-believe husband, who she was communicating with telepathically, in Seattle or Vancouver.

Orimalade said the woman had bipolar disorder with mania and psychosis at the time of the incident. She also had hallucinations, and thought she was receiving messages from a guardian angel.

The woman had a history of mental illness that was only partially treated, Orimalade said. Her illness was exacerbated by the end of her marriage and the loss of her job.

According to her psychiatric report, before she stole the ambulance the woman had driven aimlessly to several cities, tried to light her hair on fire and suffered from severe hallucinations, delusions and erratic behaviour.

She was taken to the hospital on the day of the incident because she had started several fires at shelters and had set her car on fire. 

"On account of her mental disorder, she was incapable of knowing what she was doing was wrong," Bottos said. 

Though the woman tested positive for cannabis at the time of the incident, Bottos argued that did not contribute to her mental breakdown.

A month after the woman was treated with lithium she showed significant signs of improvement, court was told.

It cost $4,787 to repair the ambulance bay and $15,174 to repair the ambulance.

Justice Wayne Renke is expected to hand down his decision Tuesday afternoon.