No honour in inquiry testimony: Taman family

The family of Crystal Taman, a Winnipeg woman killed in a crash with an off-duty police officer in 2005, was not surprised the officer had little to say Wednesday at the inquiry into the crash investigation.

'I don't recall,' Harvey-Zenk tells inquiry on fatal crash

Derek Harvey-Zenk recalled little about the time before, after or during the crash that killed Crystal Taman during his testimony at the Taman Inquiry on Aug. 6, 2008. ((CBC))
The family of Crystal Taman, a Winnipeg woman killed in a crash with an off-duty police officer in 2005, was not surprised the officer had little to say Wednesday at the inquiry into the crash investigation.

Family members spoke to reporters after Derek Harvey-Zenk testified in Winnipeg earlier Wednesday. 

Harvey-Zenk, who rear-ended Taman's convertible at a red light after he attended an all-night party with colleagues, appeared calm and composed as he said he remembered little about events before, during or after the February 2005 crash.

"I remember snapshots, like, still pictures of instances. I remember sound bites. I remember feelings," he said.

"I don't know if I have them in context, and the things that I remember, I'm not sure if I've been told things and have convinced myself I remember them or if I specifically remember them."

At one point, Harvey-Zenk was given an opportunity to say anything he wanted, but he declined. He also declined to say anything to the Taman family, both on the stand and later to reporters.

Robert Taman was not surprised Harvey-Zenk chose not to address his family at the inquiry. ((CBC))
Robert Taman, Crystal's Taman's widower, interpreted Harvey Zenk's silence this way: "Maybe he finds if he opens his mouth, he might be in some legal bind. Or quite possibly he might feel a little bit of remorse, and which he's trying not to."

Sveinn Sveinson, Crystal Taman's father, said he had "not much hope" for an apology, adding that Harvey-Zenk has never tried to tell the family he was sorry about what happened.

"If that had been me, I'd have gone to the end of the Earth to apologize for what I did because it hurt, it destroyed one wonderful person's life and pretty much has crippled many more."

Robert Taman said he wasn't upset he didn't hear an apology, noting that the former police officer would have to live with his role in the crash for the rest of his life.

"If he's getting flashes, and he's getting pictures and he's getting sound bites, I hope he has many more of them for many more days," he said.

"Had things been different and had we witnessed honourable people come forward and be truthful, it's quite possible there might've been some bit of forgiveness down the road. But as it is right now, we haven't witnessed that honour."

Memory loss not 'convenient'

Police photo of Crystal Taman's car after the crash on Feb. 25, 2005. ((Taman Inquiry))
It was clear within minutes of the start of Harvey-Zenk's afternoon of testimony that he would not offer many answers to inquiry lawyer David Paciocco's questions about the hours before and after crash.

Harvey-Zenk said he has suffered night terrors, hallucinations and sleep problems since the crash. He said his psychologist told him his symptoms are consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He denied his sweeping memory loss is convenient: "It's inconvenient for me not to be able to speak decisively on something that happened in my life. It'd be more convenient for me to be able to speak decisively."

Under Paciocco's persistent questioning, Harvey-Zenk's responses didn't waver.

"The only memory I have of the accident is feeling the impact and then feeling panicked to stop my truck," he said several times when questioned about what he remembered about the crash.

"I don't have a recollection of the incident," he repeated several times as Paciocco asked questions about details of the accident scene.  "All I remember is feeling an impact and then feeling panicked to stop my truck."

"Do you remember watching Mrs. Taman die, sir?" Paciocco asked.

"The only memory I have of the accident scene is a still picture in my mind of Mrs. Taman in her vehicle," Harvey-Zenk replied.

'I don't recall much'

Harvey-Zenk's truck at the scene of the accident. ((Taman inquiry))
In the hours before the crash, the inquiry has heard, Harvey-Zenk spent several hours with police colleagues at a Branigan's restaurant in north Winnipeg, and then, once the restaurant closed, at the home of a fellow police officer.

But none of the officers who were at either event were able to offer the inquiry any insight into how much their colleague had to drink. All testified that they either didn't remember or hadn't noticed how much — or even if — Harvey-Zenk had consumed any alcohol.

Harvey-Zenk told the inquiry he "usually" had a pint or two of beer when consuming chicken wings — previous witnesses did recall that he had eaten several dozen wings at Branigan's — but the ex-officer couldn't recall specifically if or how much he'd had to drink that night.

"I don't recall much of the evening," he said.

He also could not recall how he paid when he left the restaurant, or how he felt at the time. He did not recall going to Sgt. Sean Black's house, nor did he have any clear memory of Black's house, he said.

He did have one vague memory of an arm-wrestling contest at the house, but said he could not be sure if he participated in it or not.  He also had a memory of a room with twin beds and of washing his hands, but said he didn't know if those memories were actually from Black's house.

"I have no memory of being at Sean's," he said.

Alcohol evidence weak

An undated photo of Crystal Taman, filed as evidence in the inquiry examining the investigation into her death. (Taman inquiry)
Harvey-Zenk was initially charged with refusing a breathalyzer test, impaired driving causing death, and criminal negligence causing death.

However, all alcohol-related charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and received a conditional sentence of house arrest.  He subsequently turned in his badge and is no longer a police officer.

Public outrage in the wake of the plea agreement and sentence prompted the provincial government to launch the inquiry to examine the justice system's handling of the case.

For eight weeks, lawyers at the inquiry have questioned more than 50 witnesses, including Taman's widower and children, legal experts, members of the Winnipeg and East St. Paul police forces, and the prosecutor and defence lawyers involved in Harvey-Zenk's case.

The inquiry has effectively put the justice system and two police forces on trial: the small East St. Paul force that was initially in charge of investigating the crash scene, and the Winnipeg police force, which was also tasked with some of the investigation, including parts involving its own officers.

Some witnesses have testified at the inquiry that said they smelled alcohol on Harvey-Zenk's breath after the accident, but that evidence was not recorded or was later mishandled.

As a result, the evidence on the alcohol-related charges was weak, the special prosecutor, defence and legal experts have testified.

The inquiry is also examining the treatment Crystal Taman's family received from the court system and victim's services after the crash and in the months leading up to the plea agreement.

Lawyers will make their final submissions at the inquiry next week.

Former Ontario judge Roger Salhany heads the inquiry. He is expected to issue his final report by the end of September.