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Sater trial wraps up, decision expected in January
The families of the victims of a deadly hit-and-run collision two years ago in Coquitlam will have to wait until the new year to learn whether the man on trial for the deaths of their loved ones will be held criminally responsible.
Both the Crown and defence lawyers wrapped up their cases in the trial of Cory Sater on Wednesday, setting up Jan. 3 as the day the verdict will come down.
But there is one charge that is no longer in question.
Wednesday morning, Sater changed his plea to guilty on one count of fleeing the scene of a fatal crash.
He is still facing six charges related to the collision, including two counts each of impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death in the crash that killed Charlene Reaveley and Lorraine Cruz. A third victim, Paulo Calimbahin, lost his leg in the incident.
Sater's decision to reverse his plea came on the day lawyers from both sides began their closing arguments.
Friends and family of Reaveley and Cruz packed BC Supreme Court Room 209 in New Westminster, some wearing pictures of the victims and stickers that said "justice."
In the morning session, Crown prosecutor Chris McPherson summarized the case against Sater, saying the accused made a deliberate choice to drink and drive in the time leading up to the collision.
He pointed to evidence that showed the accused drank six double-rye and Cokes and two Jägerbombs (a mixture of Red Bull and Jägermeister) at the Lougheed Village Bar and Grill in Burnaby the night Reaveley and Cruz were killed.
McPherson noted that surveillance cameras show Sater had a case of beer with him when he visited his cousin's apartment prior to going to the bar. It is reasonable to assume, he added, that the defendant had consumed at least one of those beers.
Testimony from waitresses at the pub who said on the stand that Sater had been cut off was also recapped for the judge during the Crown's closing statement.
"Sater was cut off by the bar staff," McPherson told the court. "He was cut off because he had too much to drink."
The night of the incident, Cruz and Calimbahin had been involved in a minor collision at Lougheed and Pitt River Road. Reaveley, her husband Dan and two friends had witnessed the accident and were helping Cruz and Calimbahin when the deadly crash occurred.
The fact Sater did not slow down before hitting the two women and immediately left the scene indicates that the defendant was not simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the defence contends, McPherson told the court.
A sober person, he noted, would have been able to notice two vehicles parked on the side of the road. McPherson added that several other vehicles were able to safely stop or pass through the area and the scene was visible from as far away as 100 m.
"[Sater] doesn't even touch the brakes," he said. "A person puts their brakes on when they hit something, let alone a car... and two people."
But the case against the accused is not as clear as the Crown contends, argued Sater lawyer Rishi Gill.
The prosecution's evidence for the dangerous driving charge relies partially on statements made by a witness who testified that he saw a vehicle run a red light at Pitt River and Lougheed moments before the crash. Gill noted that the witness was not able to accurately describe the vehicle, first believing it was a station wagon in a statement he made to police. Sater was driving a white 1995 Jeep the evening of the crash.
Other evidence that the defendant was driving safely came from a Crown witness, the defence added. Lloyd Smith, who was in the vehicle with Sater at the time of the collision, said on the stand that Sater was driving safely and within the speed limit that evening.
"Mr. Smith felt the accident was unavoidable and that the victims were standing in a place they shouldn't have been," Gill said, later adding that Smith "stated that Sater was driving the same way he would drive."
Smith's testimony lined up with evidence from the Integrated Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Service, which could not say for certain that Sater's Jeep was speeding at the time of the incident, he added.
With the impaired charge, Gill said the Crown was overly reliant on testimony from the four waitresses at the bar that evening.
He questioned their statements, noting that there is a "very distinct shift in how they viewed Sater on the stand than how they viewed Sater in their statements to police" in the days after the crash.
Had the bar staff been concerned about Sater's ability to drive, they would have called him a taxi, Gill said.