Driver says he fell asleep before deadly crash

'I recall just a flash of headlights'

Cam Fortems / Kamloops Daily News
January 28, 2013 01:00 AM

A 41-year-old man accused of impaired and dangerous driving in the highway death of a Salmon Arm teen told a judge he fell asleep just before his Dodge pickup crossed the centre line.

Jean-Paul Kowal also told a B.C. Supreme Court justice Monday that excruciating pain from a broken shoulder and emotional stress at news that Donovan Pippus was killed in the head-on crash caused him to guzzle from bottles of peach schnapps and vodka.

"I recall just a flash of headlights," Kowal said from the witness stand.

"I'd fallen asleep and seen a flash of headlights. I was in the opposing lane and it was too late to get back in time."

Moments later his truck smashed into Pippus's Pontiac Sunfire, driving it backwards. A third vehicle following Pippus was also involved in the crash.

Kowal said he left work in Drayton Valley, Alta., where he worked as a machine operator in the logging industry, the morning of Sept 1, 2010, en route to home in Kelowna.

At Rocky Mountain House he bought six bottles of Crown Royal, two bottles of vodka, four bottles of wine and a bottle of peach schnapps.

At Lake Louise, about halfway home, he stopped at a rest area, where he drank between one and three ounces of schnapps, pouring it into an empty fast food cup. He testified he then had a three-hour nap before continuing toward Kelowna.

A witness last week testified that Kowal was driving erratically and passed him in a dangerous spot on Highway 97A, near Enderby. Kowal did acknowledge passing on a double-solid line in testimony, but said he was not driving recklessly.

Kowal's blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident was more than three times the legal limit, yet RCMP and emergency officials detected no signs of impairment.

During cross-examination Kowal agreed he was not sleepy prior to the crash. He speculated that he fell asleep because there is no other explanation why his truck crossed into the other lane.

Crown prosecutor Angela Ross questioned how Ross could have reached behind to grasp bottles of booze twice, then open them, if he was in "excruciating pain" from a broken left shoulder and facial injuries.

Kowal replied that the bottle of vodka and schnapps fell to hand without any twisting of his torso.

"I reached back and the box (of booze) was right there."

Ross also suggested Kowal was driving recklessly in the minutes before the crash. The accused man acknowledged passing on a double-solid line.

"You felt it was safe to pass in the dark, on a double-solid, approaching a curve?" Ross asked.

The trial is expected to conclude today with closing arguments from Crown and defence lawyers.

© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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