Edmonton woman not criminally responsible for driving SUV into her mother, defence argues

The trial of an Edmonton woman accused of trying to kill her mother by striking her twice with an SUV began on Monday, with the defence arguing she should not be held criminally responsible.

Donna Elder ran into mother twice, crashed into west Edmonton KFC in 2018

Donna Elder was charged with attempted murder after striking her mother twice with an SUV outside a KFC in 2018. Her defence is asking the court to find her not criminally responsible. (Jody Vaness)

The trial of an Edmonton woman accused of trying to kill her mother by hitting her with an SUV began on Monday, with the defence arguing the accused should not be held criminally responsible. 

Donna Elder was charged with attempted murder after she drove a Toyota Rav4 into her then 86-year-old mother, Katherine Triplett, at a west Edmonton KFC in July 2018, according to the agreed statement of facts. She's also facing charges of aggravated assault and dangerous driving causing bodily harm. 

Defence lawyer Brian Hurley told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Brian Burrows that his client should not be held criminally responsible for any of the three charges. 

The day of the incident, Elder told court, she was tormented by voices in her head who told her a woman was trying to hurt her mother. 

Elder testified that she had a long history of diagnosed depression, anxiety and memory loss. But it was only after the incident, Elder said, that she told doctors about the voices she'd been hearing in her head for a decade. 

"I was scared ... [of ] being put into an institution," she said during her testimony. 

Elder was the first person to take the witness stand on Monday morning, wearing a black pinstripe suit with a pair of glasses perched atop a head of greying hair. Eight family members, including brothers and sisters, accompanied Elder to the courtroom and watched from the public gallery as the first day of the expected five-day trial began.

At the time of the incident, Elder was the primary caregiver to her mother, who had Alzheimer's and dementia, court heard.

After the two women picked up dinner at KFC around 6 p.m. on July 18, 2018, Triplett waited by the door while Elder retrieved the SUV. Back in the vehicle, Elder told court that the voices in her head again told her a woman was trying to hurt her mother. 

Elder then drove the SUV straight into her mother, shattering the restaurant's window and knocking Triplett into an unoccupied table, according to the agreed statement of facts. She reversed, then slammed the SUV into the restaurant a second time, pinning her mother against the broken furniture. 

Triplett died about nine months after the incident, but the attempted murder charge was not upgraded.

Accused says she heard voices in her head

Elder testified that she had no recollection of the moment she drove the SUV into her mother. 

She said that she had long believed that people were following her, often trailing her in small cars while she was driving. 

"They had such little cars that when I put my Toyota Rav4 in reverse, I'd hit them," she said. 

A surveillance video shows a car crashing into a KFC critically injuring an 85-year-old woman. 0:33

Court heard that Elder was not taking her medication for depression, anxiety and insomnia around the time of the incident. The reason, Elder told court, was because she wanted to be able to wake up at night if her mother cried out for help, going so far as to sleep on the floor outside her door. 

Elder started looking after her mother in late 2016, court heard, only occasionally staying at her own home a short drive away. Under cross-examination from Crown prosecutor Anders Quist, she testified that her mother had asked her to move out before the incident, but Elder was concerned no one else would be able to step in as caregiver. 

Quist pressed on, asking Elder whether she had driven the car into Triplett in a moment of frustration, sleep-deprived and angry that her mother would ask her to leave. 

"No," Elder responded. "I love my mother." 

Anders asked, "You can love someone that drives you crazy though, can't you?"

"Not in this case," said Elder.

Schizophrenia medication stopped voices, Elder says

After the incident, Elder underwent a psychological assessment at the Edmonton Remand Centre and was later transferred to Alberta Hospital, she testified. Elder said the voices stopped around two months after she was first prescribed schizophrenia medication. 

Elder said she became a nun in 1978 at 20 years old, but left the convent in 1993, the same year she first sought medical help for depression. She told court she continued working as a teacher for three years, before taking an 18-year medical leave and eventually retiring.

The day ended with testimony from her sister-in-law Danica Anhelinger, who said Elder had become more distant from the family in the eight months leading up to the incident. She said Elder was often suspicious that people were watching her and was once convinced there was a camera installed in her mother's TV set. 

But Anhelinger said Elder was an attentive caregiver to Triplett. 

The trial is set to continue on Tuesday with the defence calling two medical expert witnesses. 

In most cases, if a person is found not criminally responsible for an offence because of a mental disorder, the case is directed to the provincial mental health review board. The panel, including at least one registered psychiatrist, then decides whether to keep the person in custody at a hospital or to release them on some or no conditions.