Michael Schmidt, the driver behind the wheel in a rollover that paralyzed a Whitehorse woman, has been found not guilty of two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.
In Yukon Supreme Court on Thursday, Justice Stephen Hillier ruled that the evidence did not prove the criminal standard of impairment beyond a reasonable doubt.
Schmidt was originally convicted of the two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm in 2011. The Yukon Court of Appeal later heard the case and ordered a retrial.
On Dec.14, 2009, Schmidt, Jessica Frotten and Michael Sanderson were driving the Alaska Highway on their way to Haines Junction.
Near mile marker 1466, the car rolled and Frotten and Sanderson were thrown. Both were injured. Frotten suffered a spinal cord injury and is now a paraplegic.
A breathalyzer given to Schmidt about three hours after the crash showed readings of 0.07.
Schmidt, 32, has insisted he hit a frost heave on the road and lost control.
Hillier said there’s no question Schmidt is at fault. “He drank and he drove.”
But in this case there was not enough to prove impaired driving causing bodily harm, the judge said.
The question was whether or not Schmidt was impaired, and if that impairment was enough to affect his driving and cause the crash and the injuries.
Schmidt has admitted to drinking the night before the crash, and having some coffee with Baileys liqueur in the morning.
That afternoon, Schmidt, Sanderson and Frotten had lunch at the Airport Chalet where they shared a pitcher of beer and ate lunch, the court heard.
They then went to Yukon Brewery where Schmidt may have had a sample of beer.
In total, Hillier estimated Schmidt had less than 30 ounces of beer in his system on the afternoon of the crash.
That amount of alcohol alone is not enough to infer Schmidt was impaired, he said.
The judge noted neither the waitress at the restaurant nor the staff at the brewery saw anything in Schmidt’s behaviour to cause concern or make them think he was impaired.
Schmidt also reacted calmly immediately after the crash. He helped his friends and flagged down passing vehicles, Hillier said.
Schmidt admitted to speeding but says he slowed down during parts of the drive.
The judge noted that frost heaves are common on the Alaska Highway and that there were frost heaves at the accident scene.
He ruled Schmidt had been speeding, but said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to determine exactly how fast he was going at the time.
When the verdict was announced, Schmidt hugged supporters in the room before leaving.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org