Woman morally responsible for tragedy but not legally, says judge

A joyriding teen who dragged along three unwilling passengers can't be held responsible for the death that eventually occurred that night, a judge was told Monday.

Cathleen Kuch, 22, pleaded guilty in B.C. Supreme Court Monday to dangerous driving causing bodily harm. She was 19 years old at the time.

She was charged after two passengers in her truck were badly injured when she lost control and rolled near the Halston intersection on Highway 5 Nov. 12, 2006.

A third passenger was died - not in the initial crash, but several minutes later as the group tried to cross the four-lane highway seeking help.

Cheyenne Fraser, 15, was killed by a car on Highway 5 as she tried to catch up to Kuch and the two other passengers.

"She ran across the highway without looking and was struck and killed by another vehicle," prosecutor Will Burrows told the judge.

"While Ms. Kuch's driving set this (accident) in motion, she could not be charged for what happened to Cheyenne Fraser. Cheyenne was killed instantly when she was hit by the other vehicle."

Ironically, the man who struck and killed Cheyenne Fraser as she crossed the highway was also investigated for impaired driving. Information was not available at press time about his case.

Justice Susan Griffin sentenced Kuch to an 18-month conditional sentence with a period of house arrest as recommended by the Crown and defence.

"It was a tragic event that night," the judge told a tearful Kuch, who had just apologized. "Your moral culpability extends further than your legal culpability. The fact a young girl lost her life is something that will always weigh on you."

Burrows described how Kuch met Cheyenne Fraser and the other two girls in Heffley Creek. She invited them into her truck to keep warm as they all had a cigarette.

But Kuch drove away with the women still in her truck and headed for Kamloops. On Highway 5, as her passengers pleaded for her to stop, Kuch drove faster, Burrows said.

Kuch's speeds topped 160 km/h at times, the court was told. As well, she drank two-thirds of a bottle of vodka as she drove.

Burrows said blood-alcohol testing done hours later showed high readings, but there is no way to know what impact the alcohol had on Kuch as she drove into Kamloops.

It can take more than 20 minutes for alcohol to reach the bloodstream and impair a person's ability to drive. In this instance, experts could not conclude Kuch's alcohol consumption minutes before was a factor in the crash. As a result, she was not charged with impaired driving.

Defence lawyer Dan Carroll said the accident has had significant impact on Kuch, who lives with consequences far beyond what she could have envisioned when she left Heffley Creek with her unwilling friends in tow.

The woman, who now lives in Dawson Creek, was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service work and was banned from driving for three years.

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