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Questions remain in Coldstream hit and run trial

November 30, 2012 - 12:40 PM

By Charlotte Helston and Marshall Jones

There is no question that Chase Garret Donaldson is the man who struck and killed Kiera-Leigh Carlson with his car on April 30, 2010. What a judge must soon decide is why Donaldson swerved from his lane across the road and onto the opposite shoulder where Carlson was walking.

That will help determine the criminal charge of dangerous driving. But it's the answer to the second charge of failing to remain at the scene of the accident—why Donaldson didn't stay at the scene and speak to 911—that changes the picture of the accident. 

Donaldson, 29, has pleaded not guilty to both counts and his trial is largely over, save for final arguments. Over a dozen witnesses have given evidence about that night, but the case itself centres around why the Coldstream man was in the wrong lane to determine if he was driving dangerously when he caused Carlson's death.
We know he was travelling too fast. The speed limit is 50 km/h but two traffic analysts pegged his speed somewhere between 75 and 100 km/h as he approached a curve in the road, shortly before the well-marked intersection with Highway 6. Over 80 km/h was too fast, one analyst said, to keep his vehicle in his lane on that corner.
Two witnesses said they remember that night very well because they were scared it was they who would be killed. They saw Donaldson's vehicle in the wrong lane, coming straight at them as they left the highway onto Aberdeen Road. Donaldson says they're wrong and that those witnesses were in his lane—or he mistook them for being in his lane—and that caused him to swerve. Not to the right, as one might expect, but to the left, speeding up as he did.
He didn't hit the vehicle. He hit Carlson as she walked to work. A judge will have to determine if he was speeding too fast and therefore dangerous. That he caused a death is not in dispute. But what he did next changes everything.
Donaldson said he knew he hit something but didn't know what. He had to have known he hit something: His driver's side mirror was gone and his vehicle showed clear signs of impact.
Perhaps he wasn't paying close enough attention at the time to see what he had hit. But if he was paying any attention at all, a traffic analyst described what he might have seen: Carlson was well-lit because the first impact with her body was on the driver's side headlight. As the car moved forward, her body collapsed against his side of the vehicle, hitting the fender, then the mirror. Then her head—her face, her hair—hit directly against his own window. 
Donaldson told court that he searched the area to see what he'd hit but found nothing in an area free of any bushes, weeds or even long grass. Carlson's body was found in the rock garden at North Okanagan Regional District mere metres from where she was hit.
We know for certain that a 911 call was made from his cellphone around the time of the accident, though later he denied making that call and was vague or inconsistent in his explanations. If he admitted to making the phone call, the charge of leaving the scene would be admitted. 
But the phone records don't lie. It suggests that Donaldson knew what he hit or looked for what he hit and found it. Found her, Carlson, lying on the rocks. Could she have been saved? Could she have at least had a moment or two with her family? An autopsy was unclear about that.
We won't know for sure because Donaldson clearly dialed 911—but he hung up. He never spoke to them, even though, as 911 callers are mandated to do, they called back twice. By the next morning, police had finally contacted Donaldson but he still said nothing.
All we know is that by morning, she was found and she was dead. Of the many curious onlookers that morning, one was Donaldson himself.


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