Woman pleads guilty in death of two pedestrians
WINNIPEG - A Winnipeg woman has admitted to killing two pedestrians in a horrific downtown crash.
Lucy Muthoka, 52, pleaded guilty this week to criminal negligence causing death for the June 2008 incident near the intersection of Donald Street and St. Mary Avenue in downtown Winnipeg.
William Halcrow, 57, and James Ross, 58, were killed instantly after being hit by Muthoka's Subaru Forester. The two friends were from the Cross Lake reserve in northern Manitoba and were in Winnipeg for medical treatment.
In exchange for pleading guilty, justice officials dropped more serious charges of dangerous driving causing death.
Muthoka has been free on bail since police arrested her and laid charges in December 2008. She will learn her fate later this spring once a pre-sentence report is completed.
Friends told the Free Press at the time that Muthoka is a devoutly religious single mother who was driving home from work when she was involved in the catastrophic string of events. They said the woman "was blank" about the details of the crash. She has no prior criminal record.
Police said it appeared that just prior to the crash, Muthoka had just left the underground civic parkade attached to the Millenium Library and drove up behind the stopped truck.
However instead of braking, she apparently slammed on the gas, police said, causing the truck to lurch forward into oncoming west-bound traffic and striking David Matsubara, 49, who witnesses said became pinned against another vehicle. He suffered a broken shoulder and lacerated skull.
The Subaru continued to accelerate, police said. Ross and Halcrow were hit and critically wounded. Witnesses and other passers-by scrambled to administer to the victims until emergency crews arrived.
The vehicle eventually came to a stop after slamming into a fire hydrant, causing water to rain down on the chaotic rush-hour scene. That hampered the police investigation because it was difficult to re-create the scene and figure out the sequence of events.
US expert tapped to probe fatal crash
A Winnipeg defence lawyer approached a high-profile U.S. researcher who investigated problems plaguing Toyota vehicles to see if similar problems may have been a factor in a fatal downtown crash that killed two men.
In a recent court hearing where Lucy Muthoka, 52, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of William Halcrow and James Ross, lawyer Saul Simmonds told the presiding judge he was investigating whether mechanical failure may have caused her car to malfunction.
Judge Brent Stewart heard that Simmonds had been in contact with Dr. David Gilbert, an automotive technology expert who recently testified before the United States Congress that his research showed Toyota engines could rev without a driver pressing on the gas.
The Southern Illinois University-Carbondale engineering professor's claims were hotly disputed by Toyota, who blamed mechanical — not electrical — problems on an acceleration issue that prompted the recall of more than eight million cars and trucks.
Halcrow and Ross were struck and killed by Muthoka's Subaru Forester as they were crossing a downtown street during afternoon rush hour on June 25, 2008. Another man was seriously injured, but survived.
Muthoka was coming out of the Millennium Library's parkade when her car suddenly accelerated, according to a brief summary of the Crown's facts of the case told to Stewart on March 4.
She slammed into a truck, swerved across a street and struck the two Cross Lake, Man. residents, who died at the scene despite valiant efforts by paramedics and passersby to save their lives.
Simmonds suggested despite Muthoka's guilty pleas, the Crown would still be forced to reconsider its case if mechanical failure proved to be a major factor in the crash.
The police investigation took nearly six months to complete due to its complexities.
"[The Crown] recognized the fact that if by some stretch of the imagination there would be some physical or mechanical reason disclosed in the future, [the Crown] will re-evaluate whether or not we should be here," Simmonds said.
U.S. safety watchdog The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists a few recall notices for Subaru Foresters built between 2002 though 2008, but none relate to any issues with sudden acceleration.
Muthoka wasn't arrested until Dec. 11, nearly six months after the crash.
Inexperience to blame for crashSimmonds told court he wanted to make it clear that the incident wasn't influenced in any way by alcohol or drugs.
"This is not one of those situations in which it is anything other than a lack of experience on the part of my client that has her here today," Simmonds said.
Under the Criminal Code, Muthoka faces a maximum 14-year prison term, however the court has ordered a pre-sentencing report be drawn up by an agency that specializes in community-based sentencing alternatives.
Neither the Crown nor Simmonds made any comment at the hearing about what sentence they are seeking in the case.
Muthoka "sought out and wanted to go through a process of expressing her apologies for whatever had taken place" since the day of the crash, Simmonds said.
He added she only stayed quiet on his advice and belief it wasn't appropriate to speak out.
At the outset of the case, Muthoka was at the receiving end of "some very threatening" notes, Simmonds said. He didn't elaborate on the nature of the notes.
But as the case wound on, the victims' families have shown they "are prepared to be involved" in some kind of restorative justice measure, Crown attorney Zane Tessler said.
Muthoka is due back in court on June 30 and remains free in the community
Driver guilty in deaths of men from Cross Lake
A Winnipeg woman has admitted to killing two pedestrians in a horrific downtown crash.
Lucy Muthoka, 52, pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving causing death for the June 25, 2008 incident at the intersection of Donald Street and St. Mary Avenue.
Muthoka has been free on bail since police arrested her and laid charges in December 2008. The matter has been adjourned to June 30 and she will learn her fate once pre-sentence reports and victim-impact statements have been completed, likely after the end of June.
William Halcrow, 57, and James Ross, 58, were killed instantly after being hit by Muthoka's Subaru Forester. The two friends were from the Cross Lake reserve in northern Manitoba and were in Winnipeg for medical treatment. Several bystanders who witnessed the crash -- and narrowly avoided being hit -- tried frantically to revive the men, as did firefighters and paramedics.
Friends told the Free Press at the time that Muthoka is a devoutly religious single mother who was driving home from work when she was involved in the catastrophic string of events. They said the Kenyan woman "was blank" about the details of the crash. She has no prior criminal record.
Just prior to the collision that killed the men, Muthoka had rear-ended a truck stopped at a light, police allege. That pushed the truck forward and injured pedestrian David Matsubara, 49, who witnesses said became pinned against another vehicle. He suffered a broken shoulder and lacerated skull.
Muthoka also hit a fire hydrant, which caused hundreds of litres of water to quickly flood the area and hampered the police investigation because it was difficult to re-create the scene and figure out the sequence of events.