Calgary truck driver guilty of manslaughter in crash that killed five people

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CALGARY - A Calgary-area truck driver who said he was "having a bad day" was found guilty of manslaughter Thursday in a horrific collision that killed five people in December 2007.

Daniel Tschetter drove his cement truck erratically, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed hurtling into the rear-end of a car stopped at a red light, spreading debris 300 metres.

"This is not an ordinary automobile. It is a cement truck. It is 10 times the size and strength and weight of the average vehicle on the road," said Justice Bruce Fraser of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.

"Most other vehicles on the road are at its mercy if it runs them down. His conduct ... demonstrates a wanton and reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others," he added.

Chris Gautreau, 41, and his two daughters, Alexia, 9, and Kiarra, 6, his girlfriend Melaina Hovdebo, 33, and her son, 16-month-old Zachary Morrison, were killed in the Dec. 7, 2007 crash.

The Chrysler Intrepid they were riding in was so mangled, said Fraser, that first responders to the scene "could not see the three dead children in the back of the car."

Tschetter, 51, was originally charged with five counts each of manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death. He bowed his head as Fraser found him guilty. The only sound in the packed courtroom was a loud sob from his daughter, who then cried quietly, wiping away tears.

Fraser said the truck driver, who resides in Cochrane, Alta., was guilty of all charges but he set aside criminal negligence in favour of the more serious counts of manslaughter. It is rarely applied in cases involving motor vehicles.

A makeshift memorial, including several children's toys and stuffed animals, remain at the scene of the crash. The victims had were going Christmas shopping.

Family members sat quietly throughout the court proceeding. Afterward, they gathered in quiet solidarity as they faced reporters.

"The only thing I can think of is that I've always wanted these kids' voices to be heard and it was heard today. I think we're setting a precedent for the future," Lee Morrison said softly of his son Zachary's death.

"I know the right decision was made. We've gone through horror and the right decision was made."

Tschetter was allowed to remain free on bail until his sentencing on Aug. 5. A full day is being set aside as many family members had expressed a desire to read victim impact statements.

"He's going to go to jail for a long time and he should start his sentence now," said Crown Prosecutor Jonathan Hak in opposing his release.

Defence lawyer Balfour Der was disappointed with the outcome and had argued his client was only guilty of dangerous driving causing death.

"He's almost in a state of shock. He's almost numb," said Der of Tschetter's response.

The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life in prison but there is no minimum. De is hopeful that he will be able to spare his client any time and is hoping for a suspended sentence.

Organizations: Alberta Court, Queen's

Geographic location: Calgary, Cochrane

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