A criminal charge against an Abbotsford chicken farmer accused in a fatal hit-and-run is at risk of being tossed out due to delays.
Kerry Froese is charged with one count of failing to stop at an accident scene involving death after Ronald James Scott, 61, who was killed on Jan. 29, 2015 after he was struck by a vehicle while riding a bicycle southbound in the 2000 block of Mt. Lehman Road.
The driver fled the scene but two weeks after the crash, the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) announced that debris found was believed to belong to a Ford F-150 pickup truck from the years 2012 to 2014.
After a lengthy investigation, a vehicle was found at a property on a Huntingdon Road. Froese was later arrested and charged on May 30, 2016.
Froese’s trial was scheduled to run July 30 to August 8 this year, but his defence counsel made an application for an adjournment in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on April 30.
Lawyer Jeffrey Ray explained that a preliminary inquiry was held June 19 to 26, 2017 when Froese’s lawyer was David Silverman. Silverman, however, recently withdrew as counsel because the lawyer is starting work in the Chilliwack Crown counsel office.
Ray said being newly appointed as counsel he did not have enough time to get up to speed by July 30. He added that he did not have court availability before Nov. 30, 2018, and both Crown and defence agreed this date was the 30-month limit of the new Jordan principle.
“I’m not in a position to be up to speed to properly defend him,” Ray said.
R. v Jordan was a 2016 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that put a limit on how long cases can go from charge to resolution. For provincial cases that is 18 months, for Supreme it’s 30 months.
In court Monday, Crown lawyer Rob Macgowan opposed the adjournment application, stating that he was ready to go for trial, and Froese refused to waive the delay.
“Crown is obliged to oppose the adjournment,” Macgowan said, adding that Froese – who was not in attendance – has a Charter right to a speedy trial and a Charter right to choose his own counsel.
“He has competing Charter interests,” Macgowan said. “And he has given instruction that seems to be in conflict with those instructions.”
Macgowan said that since Froese would not waive the delay, the application for adjournment with Ray as his counsel was a “de facto Jordan application.”
After considering the matter over the lunch hour, BC Supreme Court Justice Len Marchand said he was forced to weigh the prejudice on both sides, determining that refusing the adjournment was highly prejudicial to Froese, while the delayed offered no prejudice to the Crown.
The judge added that he had inquired and found court time starting Sept. 17 that worked for the Crown and would be enough time for another “competent lawyer” to get up to speed. He said that if Froese “places a value on timeliness” then he could find a different lawyer to represent him in the case.
The implication being that if Froese does not do so, any future judge hearing a Jordan application could consider that the accused was given the chance to proceed within the 30 months but chose not to.
He said, however, that his comments “are not binding on any judge and are not to be intended to be determinative of the issue.”
Two years ago when charges were laid, Scott’s brother-in-law Barry Remus said Scott’s family members – most of whom live in southern Manitoba – were pleased that a charge was laid in connection with the crash and were appreciative of the APD’s diligent work on the case.
This also was not the first time Froese has been charged in relation to a fatal collision.
In 2011, he pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention in the 2008 death of Trevor Dueck, 18, and was given a six-month driving prohibition.
Dueck had been riding his dirt bike south on the grassy shoulder of the 1000 block of Gladwin Road, when he slammed into the passenger side of Froese’s 2006 Ford F350.
The teen died at the scene.
Froese had initially been charged with impaired driving causing death, dangerous driving causing death, and impaired driving, but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge.
Froese is a chicken farmer who, in January 2015, was named the recipient of the BC and Yukon Outstanding Young Farmer Award.
He has run a farm for over two decades on a 20-acre property and has appeared on an episode of Chicken Squad, a marketing series to promote chicken farming in B.C.
Froese’s case was put over to a next appearance May 14 at 10 a.m. to give Ray time to consider possible a Charter application.
– with files from Vikki Hopes, Abby News