By Delon Shurtz
Alberta Newspaper Group – Lethbridge
A southern Alberta man charged nearly two years ago with failing to stop at the scene of a collision causing death, has been acquitted by a Lethbridge judge.
Judge Paul Pharo found Michael White Quills not guilty during a hearing in Lethbridge provincial court on July 28, and said the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt White Quills knew he hit a person with his pickup truck shortly after 4 a.m. Sept. 5, 2018.
The victim, 26-year-old Gage Christian Good Rider, and D.J. Long Time Squirrel, were walking along Highway 5 just south of the city after spending the day in Lethbridge drinking and consuming drugs. Long Time Squirrel’s car had broken down earlier in the day and they had decided to walk to her home on the east side of the Blood Reserve.
White Quills, who admitted during his trial in January that he drank up to 11 cans of beer in the previous 20 hours, testified he did not see the two people walking along the road just before he looked down to adjust his radio and talk to a passenger. He said he knew he struck something, but he didn’t stop his vehicle because he believed he hit a parked motorcycle, or more likely a deer. He surrendered to the police a couple of days later after learning through social media a man had been killed in the collision.
During closing arguments at the trial, Crown prosecutor Erin Olsen said White Quills likely knew he had struck and killed a person or was “wilfully blind” to the possibility. She said most people would have stopped following a serious collision, and even though White Quills eventually turned himself into police, he did so only after spending the day competing in a rodeo and drinking more beer.
Although acquitted of the original charge, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, White Quills was found guilty of the lesser offence of failing to stop in order to escape civil or criminal liability after striking another vehicle. That offence carries of a maximum sentence of five years.
Pharo said White Quills decided not to stop because he was afraid of being charged with impaired driving and because he was not insured to be driving his parents’ vehicle. He also wanted to avoid a speeding ticket -he was driving between 91 and 111 km/h in a 60 km/h zone – and he feared he would be charged with careless driving. There was also beer in the truck.
White Quills said he didn’t stop because he had hit a deer before, and on that occasion he stopped and was unable to restart his vehicle. He said he didn’t want that to happen again, so he continued driving.
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 4.