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Impaired driving trial concludes, decision expected in March

The trial of a Sherwood Park woman accused of impaired driving in a collision on Highway 28 that claimed two lives wrapped up Thursday, but a decision in the case could be months away.

The trial of a Sherwood Park woman accused of impaired driving in a collision on Highway 28 that claimed two lives wrapped up Thursday, but a decision in the case could be months away.

Stephanie Rita MacDonald Williams is facing a host of impaired driving related charges stemming from the accident on Sept. 27, 2009.

Two men — Dustin Desjarlais, 27 and Joneson Chiang, 34 — were killed in the crash on Highway 28 just south of Highway 642.

Williams was the driver of a green Pontiac Grand Am that was headed south before it drifted into oncoming traffic and collided with a silver minivan.

Desjarlais was in the passenger seat of the Grand Am and Chiang was a passenger in the minivan.

Williams was headed home to Sherwood Park following a softball tournament in Morinville when the collision occurred.

The trial was originally scheduled to run two days, but both the Crown and defence concluded their cases Thursday.

Judge Peter Ayotte said he would need time to consider the evidence and intended to provide a written decision. Due to his busy schedule the decision has been put over until March 7.

He said it was possible he would be able to render a decision in late January, but was not positive he would have the time to review all the evidence.

Charter challenge

Ayotte began Thursday by ruling on a charter challenge defence lawyer Paul Moreau had brought forward seeking to exclude blood samples the police collected from the hospital.

Moreau also argued Williams had not been properly advised of her charter rights when she was arrested in the hospital.

As part of a voir dire (trial within a trial) in October, Ayotte heard witnesses including the first police officer on the scene and medical staff who treated Williams following the accident.

Moreau argued the officer had not done enough to make sure Williams understood her rights, including her right to seek legal counsel. Ayotte found the officer had explained her rights several times and had received no response.

"It is difficult to understand what the court could expect him to do."

Ayotte ruled the charter notification had been proper and allowed the samples to be brought in as evidence, but Crown prosecutor Scott Pittman decided not to bring them into evidence.

Drink count

Pittman presented two witnesses Thursday, including one who witnessed the accident and another who drove behind Williams and said prior to the crash the vehicle drifted across the centre line.

He also offered up another softball player from the tournament, Shannon Williams (no relation), who had known Williams for several years and had seen her drinking that day.

Shannon Williams told the court they had gone to a nearby lounge for two drinks after the first game of the day. She said she believed Stephanie had consumed at least five more drinks at the ball fields and was very intoxicated at the end of the day.

Shannon Williams testified that she asked Stephanie Williams if she was driving and 'no' was the response.

When Stephanie Williams took the stand in her own defence she disputed most of Shannon Williams' testimony. She admitted she had consumed two drinks at the bar after the first game, but said she had only had one and a half back at the ball fields.

She added she was not intoxicated when she left the field and denied ever telling Shannon Williams she was not going to drive.

Closing arguments

In his closing argument, Moreau said the evidence presented was not reliable enough for a conviction.

He said there is no conclusive way to tell why the car swerved into the oncoming lane and argued Williams may have fallen asleep.

"That sort of driving pattern is equally consistent with nodding off or falling asleep behind the wheel."

He said there simply wasn't enough proof to warrant the conviction.

"I don't think the court has enough evidence."

Pittman countered that the evidence from everyone involved when added together made it clear Williams was intoxicated and this lead to the crash.

He cited as particularly damning the arresting officer's observations.

"The odour of alcohol coming from the accused's breath was so strong as to make him sick to his stomach."

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