Delays, police mistakes cripple case
Court: Family of motorcyclist killed in crash disappointed by stayed charges
By: Darlene Casten
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 11:58 am
A provincial court judge said he almost had no choice but to throw out charges against a Millarville driver who pulled out in front of a motorcycle almost three years ago, causing the death of the bike’s driver.
The subsequent collision caused the bike to burst into flames, igniting the passenger and the driver. The driver, Dan Willis, died that night in hospital and the passenger, Tracy Hutzul, survived the crash but spent over two months in hospital with a broken femur and hip and a shattered elbow.
Willis borrowed a friend’s motorcycle in Calgary and the couple had been making their way through Kananaskis Country before heading to Okotoks for lunch. Hutzul said she doesn’t remember the collision, telling the court she only remembers a pleasant motorbike ride with the man she loved.
“We were just out for a ride,” she said. “It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day.”
They had taken Highway 8 out to Kananaskis before heading back towards Bragg Creek, Hutzul testified.
“We had been to Elbow Falls,” she said. “At Bragg Creek we stopped at the stop sign and I gave him a hug and told him I loved him. That was my last memory of that day.”
It was several minutes later as Willis drove their borrowed Harley east on Highway 549 a truck pulled into their path near the Millarville Race Track. The bike braked, skidded and slammed into the truck, causing a fiery explosion and sending the occupants of the bike onto the road.
Steven Horracks was charged with proceeding when it is unsafe to do so from a stop sign, however, those charges were stayed last week.
Court heard of police delays and mistakes, as well as problems with a collision analyst’s report which was handed over to defence lawyer Brandi Aymont too late.
Aymont had lawyer Brendan Miller run the trial because he has expertise in constitutional challenges, such as delays in court proceedings.
Miller questioned police over delays in laying charges for just over six months, revealing the officer originally sent the accused person a ticket, but sent him all four copies, making the ticket invalid. The officer later decided to lay criminal charges.
The Crown also didn’t hand over the collision analyst’s report until just over a week before the first scheduled trial in February 2012, causing the case to be delayed for another year.
“It was a poor job,” Miller said of the police investigation in the case.
Judge Pat McIlhargey stayed the charges after hearing about the investigative problems and court delays, adding the Crown prosecutor had not been able to produce any eyewitnesses of the crash.
“The ball was significantly dropped in this case,” McIlhargey said.
He found mistakes led to a delay of almost a year-and-a-half, making it almost impossible for Horracks to have a clear enough recollection of the incident to defend himself.
Miller said Horracks is relieved the criminal proceedings against him are over, but still faces civil lawsuits from Willis’ family members and Hutzul.
Horracks also struggles to cope with the crash, Miller said.
“This has traumatized him,” Miller said. “He put out the driver himself. This is going to scar him for the rest of his life.”
If the trial had proceeded, Miller said they would argue the intersection was unsafe. He said a Millarville-area resident requested signage and shrubs on the west side of the intersection be removed because it blocked the sightline of people pulling onto Highway 549 from 192 Street. Those signs have since been removed, Miller said, because the Province agreed they were a problem. He said Horracks never saw the motorcycle approaching that day.
“I am adamant that he didn’t see this person,” Miller said, adding his client said he wasn’t even aware of the motorcycle until it struck his truck.
Willis’ daughter, Sharla Willis, said she is disappointed by the outcome.
“The system failed us in a way,” she said.
Horracks also delayed the court proceedings, she said, because he didn’t have a lawyer for several months.
The most upsetting aspect of her father’s death is she said she doesn’t believe Horracks feels remorse for the crash.
“I’m not mad at him for what he did,” she said. “I’m mad because he’s not sorry for what he did to my family emotionally – taking away our father.”
Her teenage brother was living with their father when he was killed and has since moved out on his own while finishing high school, she said. Her dad was her brother’s biggest fan, when it came to hockey, she said.
“He attended his hockey games,” she said. “Now when he looks up into the stands there is no one.”
They have both been struggling with is death, she added.
“He had a really big laugh,” she said. “He liked to joke around. No matter how upset I was he could put a smile on my face.”