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Trial into fatal Newfoundland highway crash hears from collision investigator

Kyle Follett in provincial court in St. John’s last week.
Kyle Follett in provincial court in St. John’s last week. - The Telegram

Brakes were engaged late, expert testifies

An RCMP collision investigator said Monday that based on tire marks at the scene of a fatal highway crash on the Trans-Canada Highway two years ago, a cube van’s brakes did not appear to fully engage until after it had hit a Rav4 SUV.

RCMP Const. Samuel Munden, who testified by video link in the trial of Kyle Follett, said damage to the road surface — including tire marks, gouges and scratches — plus accident debris and vehicle fluids, created a path allowing him to determine the movements of the vehicles involved following the crash.

He said there were tandem wheel tire marks a short distance past what he determined to be the initial impact of the cube van driven by Follett and the Rav4 SUV in which two passengers were killed.

“The brakes of the delivery truck did not commence until after the time of impact, based on the tandem tire marks observed on the road,” Munden said. “Not to say that braking didn’t take place immediately, but hard braking, to make marks, started east of the point of impact.”

Under questioning by defence lawyer Robert Simmonds, however, Munden admitted that skids marks might not have been made along the full length of braking with a cube van having a hydraulic anti-lock brake system (ABS), as in this case. ABS brakes are designed, Simmonds noted, to prevent wheels from locking and thus avoiding skidding, allowing the driver to maintain better control of the vehicle while braking.

“Even if the operator put the brakes on before (the point of impact) you would not expect to see skid marks,” Simmonds suggested. “That would go against how ABS brakes work, correct?”

“Correct,” replied Munden.

Follett, who is from Clarke’s Beach, is charged with driving without due care and attention in connection with the crash, which happened on the Trans-Canada Highway near Butter Pot Park in the late afternoon of April 19, 2016. The accident involved a number of vehicles.

Follett has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his trial is being heard before provincial court Judge Colin Flynn in St. John’s.

The accident occurred in an unfortunate series of events, starting with a pickup going off the road and into the median of the divided highway.

Felicia Pynn and Lee Campbell — who had reportedly broken into a cabin in Deer Park earlier in the day and stolen a TV, an ATV and four helmets — are said to have loaded the items in the back of a Dodge Ram pickup they were test-driving from a dealership.

Driving at a speed of more than 170 km/h back to St. John’s, the court heard, the truck somehow ended up in the median and the ATV fell out.

Motorists began slowing down and stopping to check on the occupants of the pickup.

One of the vehicles slowing down was the Rav4 SUV driven by Dwayne Dalton, who survived the accident. His two passengers, however — Randy Ralph, 52, and Shannon Pittman, 40 — were both killed after the cube van slammed into the rear of the Rav4.

The two men were both teachers at the youth correctional facility in Whitbourne and died as a result of the injuries they sustained in the crash.

Munden said the Dodge Ram and the ATV in the median became a distraction for other vehicles coming into the area.

He said the Rav4 was significantly damaged in the accident, being moved about 120 feet from initial impact.

Pynn had been subpoenaed to testify at the trial last week, but didn’t show up for court. Simmonds had asked the judge to issue a warrant for her arrest, saying she likely had the clearest view of the crash. Campbell has died since the accident.

On Monday, however, Flynn declined Simmonds’ request for a warrant for Pynn, saying there was no statement from Pynn or an indication that she actually saw the collision, and that would be the only evidence she could provide that would be relevant to the trial.

The trial continues Tuesday.

The punishment for a conviction of driving without due care or attention is a fine ranging from $300 to $1,000. Changes to the province’s Highway Traffic Act in December included the addition of a charge of driving without due care or attention causing bodily harm or death. That charge comes with potential sentences of a $2,000 to $20,000 fine, up to two years imprisonment and a licence suspension of up to five years.

The families of Ralph and Pittman have filed civil suits against Follett in connection with the men’s deaths.

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