Pembroke – A Petawawa man charged with dangerous driving causing death was found not guilty Tuesday.
Cole Allard, 29, was charged in relation to the February 19, 2022 death of then 29-year-old Jordana Yakabuskie of Pembroke. He was found not guilty by Justice Kevin Phillips in the Superior Court of Justice.
Justice Phillips delivered his ruling before a packed courtroom gallery and more than 100 individuals watching the proceedings on a live court stream. Mr. Allard was represented by Pembroke-based lawyer Mark Huckabone and Ottawa-based attorney Tony Paciocco. The Crown Attorney’s Office was represented by Assistant/Crown Terri James.
When Justice Phillips began to read his verdict he reviewed the events leading up Ms. Yakabuskie’s death on the evening of February 19, 2022, when she was struck and killed by a pickup truck driven by Mr. Allard. He zeroed in on a short video clip, a key piece of evidence argued by both the defence and prosecution to validate their differing interpretations of Mr. Allard’s role in her death.
A video recording, less than 10 seconds in length, shows Mr. Allard using his cell phone and recording Ms. Yakabuskie exiting the truck on Highway 17 near Gillan Road outside of Renfrew. The couple were in the westbound lane and were returning from Ottawa when Mr. Allard brought the truck to a complete stop.
The video begins with Ms. Yakabuskie saying ‘I am getting the f*** out’ and Mr. Allard replies ‘ok’ as she exits the vehicle but reaches in and grabs the phone. The footage then becomes blurred as Mr. Allard drove away a distance of 23 metres and the sound of wind is heard on the recording. At that point Mr. Allard brought his truck to a complete stop and exited the vehicle to run back where he found Ms. Yakabuskie lying on the snow-covered area shoulder.
He then picked her up, placed her in the backseat and drove to Renfrew Victoria Hospital where attempts were made to stabilize her in the hopes of airlifting her to the Ottawa Trauma Centre. However, she succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.
A short time later, police interviewed Mr. Allard and in his statement, Mr. Allard stated Ms. Yakabuskie purposely jumped from the truck when he was attempting to slow down in order to let her exit the truck once it came to a full stop. He later recanted the statement and said it was made in a state of panic and embarrassment and he did not want to be found out for fear of accusation.
Ruling On The Evidence
As Justice Phillips reviewed the events leading up to her death he commented on the video itself.
“When Mr. Allard saw fit to take a video of Ms. Yakabuskie with his phone and I infer from that act that Mr. Allard believed the footage of Ms. Yakabuskie at that time would somehow be useful in the future given that he was sober and she was impaired by alcohol and cannabis,” Justice Phillips stated. “I could imagine he planned to use that video later to show how unreasonable she was acting.
“I cannot go along with the Crown’s assertion that he was frustrated or otherwise emotionally aroused. Or it could show that he was composed and chose to show the clear disconnect between his calm state and her anger. Certainly the video does not show any upset on his part and I am sure watching him videotape her must have infuriated Ms. Yakabuskie.”
He said the video shows her angrily jumping in the cab to grab the phone and the phone was later found near where she suffered her fatal head wound as a result of the truck’s rear passenger tire running over her head.
“Cole Allard is charged with dangerous driving causing death and the Crown’s theory that Mr. Allard drove ahead while Ms. Yakabuskie was hemmed in between the shoulder and the snowbank that Mr. Allard operated his vehicle dangerously in a way that shows a marked departure from a reasonable and prudent driver.
“I agree that a driver is responsible for the safety of those exiting his vehicle and driver should not pull away until it is safe to do so. I also agree with the Crown that I should not be distracted by the fact the incident took only a few seconds.”
He cited a Supreme Court of Canada decision supporting the Crown’s assertion on this point. However, he came back to the simple notion of, did Mr. Allard’s action rise to the level of a marked departure from the standard of a reasonably prudent driver? He also outlined Mr. Allard’s role in the incident.
“I reject Mr. Allard’s utterances made at the hospital to the effect that Ms. Yakabuskie jumped from the vehicle while it was moving. I find that Mr. Allard was lying when he told the hospital that Ms. Yakabuskie jumped from the truck while it was merely slowing. The overall evidence from the videotape shows Ms. Yakabuskie standing still outside the vehicle.
“I decline however to use this aspect as after-the-fact conduct as indicative as guilt as the Crown suggests. I agree that deceit on the heels of misconduct can be circumstantial evidence of consciousness of guilt…but of no use of determining culpability in respect to offence before the court.”
He said although Mr. Allard was dishonest in his statement to police at the hospital, it has no bearing on his actual driving earlier in the evening as the Crown would suggest. He said Mr. Allard, nor any reasonable, prudent driver, could anticipate that Ms. Yakabuskie would grab the rear passenger-door handle as he pulled away. He also added it is not unreasonable to suggest that Ms. Yakabuskie wore a pair of over-sized workboots, would have lost balance as she attempted to maintain holding the handle while Mr. Allard pulled away in a controlled manner as shown by the tread marks at the scene.
Not Guilty Verdict
“Trying to open the door was an inherently risky act, even dangerous. I cannot see how a prudent driver could reasonably anticipate that this passenger who had just purposely and angrily exited his vehicle would move towards the vehicle as it drove off. Even allowing for her anger and apparent intoxication would have her move toward the truck and indeed, it is reasonable to move away or disengage any further contact with the truck.
“This accident occurred because Mr. Allard did not anticipate Ms. Yakabuskie would seek access to the truck after he pulled away even after she expressed a fervent desire to be away from it, and its driver. There is no evidence indicating Mr. Allard drove away from the scene fast or not straight. His failure to anticipate she would attempt to wrench the door handle is not a marked departure from the standard expected of a reasonably prudent driver.
“His failure to notice that she grabbed and broke the rear handle could be considered careless, but I cannot find it was a marked departure. He was endeavouring to move the truck forward on the shoulder and not purposely accelerating in speed to rejoin the highway. He did not appear to steer the vehicle, but drove it in a short line.”
“The tragic death of Ms. Yakabuskie was a result of Mr. Allard failing to anticipate her to do something unexpected, irrational and surprising. While every driver must be prepared for the unexpected, I cannot find that the failure to anticipate the unexpected and unique circumstances of this case was a marked departure from the standard expected of a reasonably prudent driver.”
Yakabuskie Not To Blame
Justice Phillips concluded his statement by emphasizing Jordanna Yakabuskie was not to be blamed for her tragic death.
“Becoming intoxicated by alcohol or cannabis is no crime,” he said. “It is something all of us might do from time to time. This case is a tragedy in that a trial is needed to find the facts in order to write the history for the community so that everyone can forever know what happened.
“It has been established beyond all doubt that Jordanna Yakabuskie was an impressive young woman with a bright future. I can feel in watching her father, her mother and brother and sister testify that she was well loved and deeply missed.
“In the early days of the trial, I walked by a little memorial erected in her memory in front of the courthouse. I gather that she liked sunflowers. I saw quite a crowd gathered one morning outside on her behalf and indeed in the public gallery throughout the trial and even today it is clear that her family and her loved ones, indeed all of us, are diminished by Jordanna’s absence.
“But this trial is not about achieving some sort of result to offset the loss of Jordanna Yakabuskie. The justice system cannot possibly do any such thing. This trial is only about whether the Crown’s assertion that Cole Allard’s dangerous driving led to her death beyond any reasonable doubt.
“In my judgement, the evidence has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cole Allard drove in a manner that is a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the circumstances he found himself in.
“Mr. Allard is not guilty. Thank you.”
As Justice Phillips exited the courtroom, several members of Ms. Yakabuskie’s family and friends immediately broke into tears and hugged one another while those seated around Mr. Allard quietly sat or exited the courtroom.
Neither the Crown or Defence counsel were available for comment.