Quebec woman who stopped for ducks guilty in two deaths

Emma Czornobaj found guilty of causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his passenger daughter

Graham Hughes/CP

Graham Hughes/CP

MONTREAL – A woman who stopped to help a group of ducklings on the side of the road shed tears Friday as she was found guilty of causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his passenger daughter who slammed into her parked car.

The lawyer for Emma Czornobaj said his client was in shock after she was convicted by a jury on two counts of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing death.

Czornobaj, 25, was charged in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his daughter Jessie, 16, on a Montreal-area highway.

She wiped away tears when the verdict was delivered to a packed courtroom in Montreal.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Eliane Perreault asked each of the 10 men and two women on the jury whether they agreed with the verdict and they replied unanimously in favour.

The jury reached its decision as it entered its fourth day of deliberations on Friday.

Czornobaj was released until her pre-sentence hearing on Aug. 8.

She did not say anything to reporters and walked quickly by them in the courthouse corridor, holding up a newspaper to hide her face. Her mother was at her side.

Criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum life sentence while the charge of dangerous driving causing death comes with a maximum of 14 years in jail. Czornobaj has no previous criminal record.

Pauline Volikakis, whose husband and daughter were killed in the collision, briefly fought back tears when she left the courtroom.

She refused to speculate about a possible sentence, saying she just wanted to get on with her life.

“It’s been difficult,” said Volikakis. “But it’s finished. We’re moving on other things (and) we hope it will go well.

“I don’t wish misfortune on anyone,” she added. “It’s time that we go on. This will not bring (back) my loved ones.”

Volikakis was on another motorcycle behind her husband when the collision happened. She was driving more slowly and managed to avoid injury.

A provincial police officer testified at the trial that Roy, whose speed was estimated to be from 113 km/h to 129 km/h when he applied his brakes, collided with Czornobaj’s car at between 105 km/h and 121 km/h.

The jury was told the speed was higher than the prescribed 90 km/h limit on the road.

Roy’s motorcycle slammed into Czornobaj’s car, which was stopped in the left lane of a provincial highway in Candiac, south of Montreal.

His daughter was riding on the back of the motorcycle when the collision happened on June 27, 2010.

The trial heard that Czornobaj, who had three years’ driving experience at the time, had stopped to rescue ducklings on the side of the road.

The professed animal lover told the court that she did not see the ducklings’ mother anywhere and planned to capture them and take them home.

Czornobaj testified that she turned on her hazard lights and put on the parking brake.

The unemployed financial analyst also left the driver’s side door open and the engine idling, which showed she wasn’t expecting to be stopped very long.

Defence lawyer Marc Labelle, who is considering an appeal, said his client was stunned by the jury’s decision.

“The fact that she was involved in the accident in the first place was a hard experience for her,” he said. “The fact that she had to go through a trial with a lot of publicity was tough and to be confirmed by 12 citizens, the jury, that the conduct was criminal is a hard blow.”

Labelle, who has been a lawyer for around 30 years, pointed out that the case was a unique one.

“It’s the first time I do a trial where it is obvious that there is no criminal intent,” he said.

“It’s rare that we have a criminal negligence dossier where there are no bad elements,” Labelle noted. “It’s not someone who is taking a chance while driving drunk, it’s not someone who is speeding.”

Outside the courtroom, Crown prosecutor Annie-Claude Chasse publicly thanked the jury for their work.

“We do have a lot of respect for all the work of the jury,” Chasse said. “They did not have any easy questions to answer.”

The Crown attorney also had a message for motorists.

“What we hope is that a clear message is sent to society that we do not stop on the highway for animals. It’s not worth it.”




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Quebec woman who stopped for ducks guilty in two deaths

  1. I thought the presumption in ANY rear-ender was that the following car(s) were following too close. What if it had been a deer on the road or a pedestrian? The exact same accident would have occurred. BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!

  2. “Volikakis was on another motorcycle behind her husband when the collision happened. She was driving more slowly and managed to avoid injury.”

    That says it all. You want to avoid injury? SLOW DOWN! If you are outdriving your stopping distance, you — and you alone — are responsible for the consequences. I can’t believe Volikakis even had the gall to bring charges, let alone that anyone convicted her.

    Cars can be stopped on the road because of engine trouble or accidents or medical emergencies or any number of extenuating circumstances. At worst, Czornobaj is guilty of violating a “no stopping” zone or impeding traffic flow. But criminal negligence? Ridiculous!

    • I agree. She made a poor decision, but the charge is far too harsh.

    • Volikakis would not have been the one to bring charges. Only the police could do that.

      Stupid thing to do to stop for the ducks, but totally understandable. Hard to see this as a criminal offence.

  3. This is absurd.

  4. I live in Vancouver BC. The Canadian geese walk across the roads in large groups of around 20. If we aren’t supposed to stop then the alternative is to run them over. The message from the Crown attorney reeks of someone who seeks the world through black and white goggles.

    Nothing is accomplished by putting this woman in jail. Take away her drivers license and assign community service.

  5. While I do not know the full details of this story, just what was published in the headlines, this verdict strikes me as extremely unjust and more than a little ridiculous. I was under the impression that this is Canada and that as a motorist I had the right to stop for whatever reason I deemed necessary, wherever I needed and the traffic behind me was supposed to follow the rules of the road and drive at such speed that they can and go around or stop without plowing into me. I am certainly not aware that stopping anywhere on the highway for whatever reason was illegal. Well, according to this verdict apparently I was naïve and this is not the case. We are not allowed to stop (especially in the left lane) since our cars are not allowed to break down, children are not allowed to wander out on the road, we cannot feel sick, and we must never stop for ducks (or any other reason because we are on the highway and none of these things are allowed ever to happen according to our justice system). While the crown in this case wanted us to get the message that we should not stop for ducks the only messages I am getting is that 1) this was an unfortunate accident perpetuated by the motorcycle driver but certainly not criminal 2) the Canadian justice system is severely flawed 3) the Crown wanted to make an example of this case to prove a point (although I am not sure what this point was, possibly that an innocent person must be convicted) 4) the Canadian highways are not safe for people or ducks 5) motorcycles are dangerous to drive and if the cyclist was driving a car both him and his daughter may be alive (again a personal decision not necessarily made based on sound reasoning). Anyway, this is just my own two cents.

    • What driving school did you attend? Because I’m pretty sure in mine they covered the whole “don’t stop on the freeway unless it’s an emergency, and even then pull off to the shoulder if at all possible” thing.

      And out of curiosity, I looked it up and there are two spots in Quebec’s Highway Safety Code that explicitly:

      “382. Except in case of necessity, no person may stop a road vehicle in such a manner that it will block a sign or signal, obstruct traffic, hinder the performance of work or the maintenance of highways or prevent access to any property.”

      and

      “384. No person may stop a road vehicle on the roadway of a public highway where the maximum speed allowed is 70 km/h or more, unless in a case of necessity or when authorized to do so by signs or signals.”

      You don’t seriously think wanting to take some ducklings home is a “case of necessity,” do you? There is no right to stop wherever you feel like it just because you feel like it.

      In the case of a mechanical breakdown or a child running into the road or an actual emergency like that, of course it’s different, but that is provided for under the law. What she did was reckless and created a dangerous (and unfortunately fatal) hazard and it does fit the definition of criminal negligence in the Criminal Code.

      • Unfortunately a necessity for one may not be the necessity for other. Necessity is not defined. It is also not equivalent to emergency. The assumption is that if you need to stop (whatever that reason is) it is safe for you to do so and to get out of your car without being killed. That is the presumption underlying our highway laws (basically that highways are safe for pedestrians and motorists alike and just because you walk out in the middle of the road it is not a reason for a motorist to try and kill you. They may do that by accident but not on purpose since that would be criminal). I also do not believe that getting out of your car in the middle of the road for anyone consitutes criminal behavior (yes, it may be jaywalking obstructing traffic and so on but you are specifically quoting highway safety code, not the criminal code, so possibly a suspension of driving license not jail time, a hefty fine or similar a punishment). I am also guessing that if this was a police car parked right in the middle of the road it would not get hit by anyone. Everyone would see it and manage to avoid it whether it had flashers on or not, same for policemen jumping out right in front of you. They do this quite often for me and I never killed one yet (really).

  6. Someone who fatally “doors” a cyclist gets off with a fifty dollar fine (maybe) and no demerit points, while a woman who stops her car on a highway to save ducklings faces life imprisonment. There’s a strange lack of proportion here.

  7. Driving with due care and attention is a shared responsibility.

  8. I was in Calgary a few years back and a family of ducks had the deer foot trail stopped completely in both directions. Do think any one Of those drivers would have been charged with a crime had they been rear ended. Also, sounds like the bikes were going pretty damned fast.

    • Ok, spellcheck messed that up totally and macleans lack of an edit feature reminds me once again why I don’t bother commenting here much any more.

  9. Don’t let your car break down in Quebec.
    If someone, even if they are speeding, runs into you, you will most likely be a killer.
    Move out of there.

  10. If the Crown is pursuing this woman for dangerous driving causing death then it would be equally just for this woman to sue the family of the motorcyclist for dangerous driving as well. she could sue for the damage this has caused to her life, etc…. It sounds absurd but it is just as absurd as the Crowns position.

    The cyclist was driving a minimum of 23 km/hr over the speed limit in a 90 zone. and a maximum of 39 km/hr over. Not only that, he had a passenger which on a motorcycle causes the breaking distance to increase significantly. Absolutely reckless driving. In addition, a truck in front of him managed to swerve out of the way. Obviously, since he struck the car at 105 km/hr., he did not leave adequate space either(tailgating).

    The Crown and this goofy animal hating prosecutor cannot legislate peoples morals away. The poor woman was an animal lover and obviously, if she had not tried to rescue the ducklings she knew it meant certain death for them. She would have been emotionally scared if she did nothing. She did all she could to avoid an accident but given the recklessness of this and most all Quebec drivers, this tragedy occurred.

    As someone who lived in Quebec for 5 years and devoutly followed all the rules to the letter, I can tell you that they are a reckless society. They are the only province that has a significant number of child deaths caused by driving. I would characterize about half of them as reckless. If you kill someone while driving, you cannot be sued unless convicted of criminal charges which almost never occurs. The families of those who loose a family member will only receive AT MOST, 5 times the annual wages of the deceased. That only occurs if the deceased is 45 years old. Younger and older victims families get even less. If you are retired or unemployed, they don’t even get enough to cover funeral expenses. It is one of the reasons I moved out or that irresponsible Province.

  11. While there is very clear negligence involved here, it is also true that every motorcycle manufactured today has braking capability far beyond and but the most expensive sports cars.
    It is also a fact in nature that no adult duck would place itself in danger and sacrifice themselves to a predator in hopes it would save their young.

    There is no information here regarding the situation, clearly there must have been no safe shoulder on the road on which to stop so the car was parked in a traffic lane on the highway. There must have been very poor notice of this or some ‘undue care and attention’ would have been indicated with regard to the motorcyclist, since stopping is something motorcycles do very well.

    Leaving the drivers side door open also shows a careless disregard for motorists, who it seems were relegated to being less important than some ducklings by the driver.

    This case has strong indications and examples that the current closed eyes and bullheaded conservative drive for minimum sentencing in any area of criminal acts is so very wrong. A horrible thing, but, what if minimum sentencing were applied to this in the same manner as it is to other legislation? Hopefully the judge is allowed to JUDGE this case independant of minimum sentences decreed from on high by vote hunting politicians.

    Clearly even with the horror of this act, stupidity rather than intent is the real culprit.

    • So you found a way to blame this on the Conservatives? Fascinating. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ducks crossing roads at all until Harper got in.

  12. She made a mistake to stop the ducks but I believe anything over the speed limit without a save distance to stop will cause this to happen hardly dangerous driving such BS !

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