Ottawa

Driver who killed cyclist on charity bike ride found guilty

A Kingston, Ont., man who crashed his car into a group of cyclists taking part in a long-distance charity ride for pancreatic cancer three years ago has been found guilty of dangerous driving causing death.

Robert Saunders of Kingston, Ont., endangered cyclists 'lawfully on the road,' judge rules

Jeff Vervaeke of Waterdown, Ont., died June 1, 2018, five days after being hit by a gray Nissan during a charity bike ride. Three years later, the driver of that car, Robert Saunders of Kingston, Ont., was found guilty of dangerous driving causing death. (Submitted by Paul Brown/7 Days in May)

A Kingston, Ont., man who crashed his car into a group of cyclists taking part in a long-distance charity ride for pancreatic cancer three years ago has been found guilty of dangerous driving causing death.

Robert Saunders was convicted earlier this month for his role in the 2018 crash, which killed 42-year-old Jeff Vervaeke of Waterdown, Ont., and injured several others.

Saunders was also found guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

He failed to ever see what was there to be seen.- Justice Robert Beaudoin

The cyclists were on a 1,200-kilometre journey around Lake Ontario when, on May 27, 2018, one of them hit a pothole on Bath Road west of Kingston, Ont.

A small group was tending to the injured rider as a Santa Fe van approached them. A grey Nissan pulled out from behind the van and veered onto the shoulder to pass, right where the cyclists had gathered.

Vervaeke, a father, triathlete and mechanic, was struck by the Nissan, bounced off its windshield and was sent flying, according to testimony during the six-day hearing in April.

He was rushed to Kingston General Hospital where he died five days later.

Everything went black

Ontario's Superior Court of Justice heard testimony from Saunders, the van driver and passenger, Ontario Provincial Police and some of the 60 or so cyclists who'd signed up for the charity ride.

Three cyclists told court that earlier that same day, the Nissan had passed them much closer than is permitted by law.

One of the cyclists hit by the Nissan, Erin Townley, told court how everything went black the moment she was struck, and when she woke up, she was cradling her fractured right forearm.

Court heard from multiple witnesses that the collision threw the rider the group had been tending to over the Bath Road guardrail. Witnesses testified that Vervaeke was found lying in a pool of blood on the road, gasping for air.

An Ontario Provincial Police photo from the scene of the collision on Bath Road outside Kingston that killed Jeff Vervaeke. (OPP)

'Inattentive to his surroundings'

The van's driver and passenger both told court that prior to the collision, the Nissan driver repeatedly crept up to their bumper and then backed off, which made them nervous.

Saunders testified that he swerved to the shoulder of Bath Road because there was an oncoming car in the other lane — an assertion the van's occupants denied — and said he didn't want to rear-end the vehicle in front of him.

He denied that he was tailgating, and said if he'd seen the cyclists, he would have aimed his car for the guardrail to avoid hitting them.

But in his ruling, Justice Robert Beaudoin found that Saunders was not a "credible witness" and said it was "troubling" that he didn't even try to hit the brakes before veering onto the shoulder.    

"He endangered other cyclists lawfully on the road and he endangered the occupants of the Santa Fe. He was inattentive to his surroundings," said Beaudoin in his ruling, published on June 1, three years to the day after Vervaeke's death.

"He failed to ever see what was there to be seen."

It's expected sentencing submissions and victim impact statements will be delivered on Aug. 4.

now