Defence argues seizure to blame for fatal Surrey crash as closing arguments begin
VANCOUVER -- Closing arguments are now underway in the trial of a Surrey, B.C., woman charged in connection with a crash that killed a young athlete.
The defence was first to make submissions on Wednesday, and argued the evidence pointed to the accused having a seizure behind the wheel.
Family and friends of 17-year-old Travis Selje were in court in New Westminster as the final stage of the trial began. The accomplished young soccer player and member of the Whitecaps residency program died after his car was hit from behind at 64th Avenue and 176th Street in Surrey on May 3, 2017.
Rituraj Kaur Grewal has pleaded not guilty to three charges, including criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle causing death.
In final submissions, her lawyer Don Muldoon told the court Grewal has no memory of the crash, and she testified she was feeling fine and had not consumed alcohol or drugs prior to heading out in her father’s Cadillac that evening.
“The evidence is compelling that an epileptic seizure caused this tragic accident,” he said.
Muldoon pointed to testimony from three witnesses who said they saw Grewal’s body shaking and “convulsing” after the crash. He added she has since been diagnosed with epilepsy, a finding he noted was not challenged by the Crown.
“We know that she had never experienced any...tremor or seizure while out driving prior to the accident,” he said, referring to Grewal’s testimony. “There is no basis for concluding that this woman could or should have known there was any risk in her operating a motor vehicle on May the 3rd, 2017.”
Muldoon told the court MRI’s of Grewal’s brain revealed a cyst on her right temporal lobe.
“The evidence is crystal clear,” Muldoon said. “This woman has abnormalities in her brain, and those abnormalities in and of themselves can cause seizures.”
At one point, Madam Justice Jeanne Watchuk said she didn’t disagree that the evidence of Grewal’s diagnosis and that of a seizure following the crash is strong, but asked if there was anything that could prove when a seizure may have started. The defence said no.
At the start of the trial, witnesses testified about seeing a black Cadillac on 64th Avenue prior to the crash.
One testified he saw the vehicle hit another vehicle in front of him, and then keep driving. Another, Tania Nagy, said she had to slam on the brakes when the Cadillac suddenly came into her lane.
“It was coasting in and out of traffic,” she told the court. “Like, no regard for other vehicles, just in and out, no brake lights, no signals...quite odd, actually.”
On Wednesday, Muldoon told the court there were “inconsistencies” with some of the witness evidence leading up to the crash, and said no description of the driver or license plate was provided.
He added there was testimony regarding video evidence and the Cadillac’s event recorder device that the accelerator was “fully depressed” prior to hitting Selje’s car and the vehicle was speeding, but there was no evidence of any efforts made to avoid the crash.
“There is no braking, not even the most minimal of braking,” he said. “There’s no attempt to steer away.”
Selje had been driving his friend home after soccer practice and was stopped at a red light when his car was hit. The court heard the impact caused Selje’s car to collide with an SUV.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutor Kelly Johnston said a blood test detected oxycodone in Grewal’s system following the crash, but how recently it had been used could not be determined. Muldoon said Grewal testified she took the drug the weekend before for a migraine headache, and called it a “red herring," adding no illicit substances were detected following swabs of Grewal’s face and hands.
Selje’s family has told CTV News their beloved son and brother was fair, honest, hard-working, and made friends easily.
At the start of the trial, his sister Sara said he was just “a child” when he was taken from them.
“He had so many options to where his future could have gone and where he could have gone, and what he could have achieved in his life,” she said of the straight-A student. “I just want him back.”
The Crown is scheduled to make its closing arguments on Friday.