Driver guilty of dangerous driving in orange zone death near Weyburn

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October 13, 2015 - 6:11am Updated: October 13, 2015 - 4:40pm
Keith Dunford leaving Weyburn's court on Tuesday.
Kevin Martel/CJME
Keith Dunford leaving Weyburn's court on Tuesday.

The man charged with hitting and killing a flag worker over three years ago near Weyburn has been found guilty of dangerous driving causing death.

But Keith Dunford, 47, was found not guilty of a second charge – criminal negligence causing death. He pleaded not guilty to both charges in August.

It stems from an incident in August 2012 when Ashley Richards, 18, was killed in a construction zone along Highway 39, near Midale. She had been hired just one day earlier.

Dunford sat listening to the judge with a neutral expression on his face. Sitting in the courtroom near him were some of Richards' former co-workers, some even wearing their brightly coloured reflective vests.

"It's been a long three years. It's a tragedy," said Reg Willick of HJR Asphalt, the company Richards worked for when she was killed.

Despite her brief time with the company, Willick saw Richards as part of their work family. After the hearing he said he was still digesting Tuesday's verdict.

"It's really tough right now to even say if we're satisfied or if we're just relieved it's over. I don't even know what I feel yet."

During his two-day trial, an RCMP video statement of Dunford's was entered as evidence. In that video, recorded just hours after the crash, he admitted he wasn't paying attention while driving.

Judge Lana Krogan gave her decision on the charges in a Weyburn courtroom. On the criminal negligence causing death charge, she didn't believe there was enough evidence to suggest Dunford showed a reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others.

However, on the dangerous driving causing death charge, she explained how in her view it wasn't just a momentary lapse, Dunford showed he wasn't paying attention at the wheel for a prolonged period of time. For roughly 13 kilometres he was driving unknowingly through a construction zone, passing by sign after sign. Krogan believed a reasonable driver would have noticed this.

Dunford's defense lawyer, Aaron Fox, was disappointed by the guilty verdict, previously arguing that while Dunford may have been careless, he shouldn't be held criminally responsible. Fox insists his client is remorseful.

"Mr. Dunford's viewed this as a very sad, tragic case from day one. He was clearly very upset over what has taken place. Nothing has changed about that," he said.

"No matter what the outcome of this case was--guilty or not guilty--he knew he was going to have to live with that for the rest of his life."

Crown Prosecutor Mitchell Miller hopes the case will serve as  a reminder for drivers.

"I think it can emphasize to the public the responsibility that each of us has in the orange zone to take care," he said.

There's no minimum sentence for dangerous driving causing death. Fox suggested jail time is likely since a death was involved.

Sentencing arguments will be heard starting Oct. 30.