ALBERTA

Fatality Inquiries Legal Costs For Families Should Be Paid By The Province, Alberta Judge Says

10/15/2013 01:22 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
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CALGARY - An Alberta judge reviewing the deaths of two men in a fiery crash has made no recommendations to change police pursuit policies.

But provincial court Judge Mark Tyndale does suggest that the province should pay legal costs for families when their relatives are the subject of a fatality inquiry.

Tyndale's report into the June 2010 deaths of Byron and Ryan Gray was released Tuesday.

The Grays, who both had alcohol in their blood above the legal limit, died when their speeding Jeep crashed into a tree and a house. The Jeep then burst into flames.

Tyndale said the Jeep was being driven at speeds of up to 154 km/h, but he ruled that what happened was not the result of a high-speed police pursuit.

"From the moment that Byron Gray decided to flee from the traffic stop initiated by (Const.) Lind, his fate, and that of his nephew Ryan Gray, rested in his own hands," Tyndale wrote in his report.

"The irrational decision to flee police was likely influenced by his consumption of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. It was Byron Gray’s driving at excessive speeds on residential streets and his subsequent loss of control of the vehicle that led directly to the catastrophic collision with the house, his death, and the death of Ryan Gray."

Byron Gray, 29, died at the scene of the crash. His nephew Ryan Gray, 18, died later in hospital of his injuries.

Tyndale wrote that Const. Jens Lind had followed the Jeep in his police car after the driver made an abrupt turn, but ended the chase when the vehicle drove off at high speed.

Tyndale said Lind's performance was commendable. The judge noted that the veteran officer risked his own life trying to rescue the men after the crash.

He said the way emergency medical technicians quickly responded to the crash was also exemplary.

Two of Tyndale's recommendations, including the one about covering costs for families, fall outside the legal mandate of fatality inquiries to deal with issues that could prevent similar tragedies.

In this case, he noted the men's relatives faced five lawyers representing the Calgary Police Service and Alberta government during the inquiry held this summer.

"For the vast majority of citizens, a courtroom is foreign territory, governed by its own language and set of rules," reads his report.

"In order to meaningfully participate in the inquiry, a party must almost always retain counsel. To require civilian parties to retain their own counsel may result either in an increased financial burden on the already tragedy-struck family or in an inability to fully participate in the inquiry."

Relatives of the two dead men have been critical of police about the crash and how it was investigated.

Their lawyer, Bill Klym, said the families are disappointed with the findings of the inquiry other than the recommendation about legal costs.

"Nothing is going to bring back their two young men and they are most unhappy with the results," Klym said. "It is adding insult to injury that they have to go through the process of hiring a lawyer in circumstances like this."

Tyndale also recommended that police cruisers be equipped with in-car camera systems.

"Although this recommendation may not serve to prevent a similar tragedy, the audio and video recording of police interaction with the public would provide independent verification of the events," he wrote.

"In other police-public interactions, the camera may serve to temper the behaviour of individuals who know they are being recorded."

Michelle Davio, an Alberta Justice Department spokeswoman, said the government is reviewing the recommendation about paying for legal counsel for families who have been granted standing at a fatality inquiry.

"No decision has been made yet but it is being considered," she wrote in an email.

— By John Cotter in Edmonton

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Byron and Ryan Gray were brothers.

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