Van driver acquitted of killing elderly pedestrian

The motorist was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment in 2016, after a court of magistrates declared him guilty of involuntary homicide  

A motorist who collided with an elderly pedestrian who was crossing a busy road in Paola in 2010, has been cleared of negligently causing her death by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Wayne Grima had been charged with the involuntary homicide of Vincenza Ellul and causing her grievous injury. Grima was also accused of dangerous driving and of driving a vehicle with defective brakes.

Ellul had suffered head injuries and died in hospital 18 days after being hit by Grima’s van as she crossed the road.

Grima had been declared guilty by a court of Magistrates in 2016 and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for four years, as well as having his driving license suspended for 12 months.

Through his lawyers, Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri, the driver had filed an appeal.

Mr. Justice Giovanni Grixti, in his judgment on the case, noted that the victim had been crossing Zabbar Road in Paola from a spot where there was no zebra crossing and that there was no speed limit signs “or other signals to draw particular attention.”

A court appointed expert had noted that the victim had crossed the road from behind a bus that was stationary in the bus lane. Grima’s van had been travelling at 60km/h when he applied the brakes and had decelerated to 44km/h by the time of impact. The expert had adjudged the van’s brakes to be defective- something which the accused denied.

The accused had testified and told the court that he had been driving at 35km/hr when the woman had rushed out, head lowered, from behind a stationary bus. He explained to the judge that he had taken evasive action when he spotted the woman but that she had continued to run in front of his van, which struck her head and shoulder.

He insisted that his van had passed its VRT mere months before the incident and so his brakes could not have been defective, but the court said that this did not prove it was roadworthy at the time of the incident.

Grima’s lawyers had argued that the court of Magistrates, which ruled that he had been driving carelessly and too fast, had ignored key testimonies “which could have led it to the truth of what happened that day.”

The elderly victim had not exercised caution in crossing the road, claimed the defence.

The driver had argued that the wrong set of brake marks found on the road surface had been taken into account.

On this argument, the court quoted from case law and observed that the brake marks were circumstantial evidence which had to be in agreement with the rest of the evidence to be taken into account.

In its conclusions the court said that it couldn’t rely entirely on the expert’s report and exclude the other evidence which showed that Ellul had crossed the arterial road, from behind a bus and at its widest point, with her head down. This indicated that the victim had not taken notice of the traffic, said the judge. Consequently, the first court could not have reasonably reached a conclusion of guilt.

Grima was acquitted of the charges and released from all punishment, the sentence having been overturned.

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