'They got it right': Unexpected guilty verdict in fatal high-speed Vancouver crash
The three judges hearing the appeal of a driver's dangerous driving acquittal have unanimously overturned the lower court's acquittal, declaring him guilty of dangerous driving causing death and saying the trial judge was in "legal error."
The Crown had been seeking to have the BC Court of Appeal substitute the acquittal with a conviction rather than ordering a new trial in the high-speed 2015 crash that killed a Vancouver doctor on Oak Street.
"In the end, then, the sole issue for the trial judge was whether the rapid acceleration and excessive speed Mr. (Ken) Chung exhibited in the moments before the incident constituted a marked departure from the norm," said Justice Harvey Groberman as he read an oral judgement on behalf of the panel.
The collision destroyed a Suzuki driven by 68-year-old family doctor Alphonsus Hui as he went to his office to do paperwork on a Saturday morning.
Experts had testified Chung went from 90 km/h to 140 km/h in a single city block, slowing down to 119 km/h as he braked moments before the crash.
"I cannot understand how I could possibly describe the driver at almost three times the speed limit into a major intersection as anything but a marked departure from the norm," said Groberman. "The speed was so wildly beyond a reasonable standard it is appropriately branded as criminal."
The rare decision to skip a new trial and find the accused guilty had Hui’s daughter choking back tears as she spoke with reporters outside the courthouse.
"We're tremendously relieved that they got it right today," said Monique Hui, the victim's daughter. "After three-and-a-half years of pure torture and outrage at the original decision and finally, they got it right and we have faith in our justice system again."
She pointed out that while they used polite language and legal terms, the appeal panel shredded the trial judge’s justification.
"It proves we had good grounds to be bewildered and to be outraged, because they were outraged too," said Hui.
On Friday Groberman, Judges Lauri Ann Fenlon and John Hunter heard arguments from Crown and Chung's lawyer, with the former arguing Rideout had been in error by acquitting Chung while the latter suggesting while there was "room for disagreement" among jurists, the trial judge made the right call even though the case was "legally very challenging."
In his May 2018 decision, trial judge Gregory Rideout described driver Ken Chung's speed as excessive, but noted it was a case of "momentary" acceleration and did not reach the threshold for criminal fault.
Typically, judges reserve their decision for days or even months to consider how to rule on a case, but the Court of Appeal stunned the courtroom by announcing an oral judgement 20 minutes after asking the Crown and Chung’s lawyer a few follow-up questions.
A graphic video submitted as evidence in the crash shows the catastrophic moment of impact and informed Rideout's decision; it was cited by the court of appeal in their oral reasons for judgment, called "brief but disturbing."
The judges have remitted Chung's case to provincial court for sentencing, which has not been scheduled yet. When CTV News contacted Chung’s lawyer, Richard Fowler, to see if Chung would appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada he said it was "too early to say."
"It’s been three-and-a-half years since I had something good to say to my mom," said Monique.
"It was a huge affirmation for what I think what most of us felt, which is this is common sense – forget the legal jargon, forget the technicalities and the loopholes and micro-analyzing this until we lose all sense of what is obvious, which is if you drive 140 kilometres (an hour) through a 50 km/h zone in a major intersection, that is a marked departure from what a reasonable driver would do."