Family that lost loved one due to unsafe left-hand turn want those responsible to pay more than $115

On Aug.18, 2011, Brett Bardenhagen, 26, was charged $115 for making an unsafe left-hand turn on a highway near Clearwater County, Alta.

This traffic violation resulted in the death of William Tomlinson, who was on his motorbike heading east at the time.

“Dad was just supposed to go for a quick motorcycle ride and then come right back home, but he didn’t make it,” said Pamela Tomlinson, one of William’s three daughters.

The Tomlinson family was not only traumatized that they had lost a husband and father in a matter of seconds, but stunned that the fine was the maximum punishment the judge could impose under the Alberta Traffic Safety Act.

“My mom said the worst part of the whole ordeal [was that] his ticket was $115. She said the jeans he was wearing cost more. How is my dad worth less than a pair of jeans?” asked Pamela.

Bardenhagen did not respond to a message request through his Facebook site to speak for this article.

The way the law is now, all that could be given to Bardenhagen was a traffic violation similar to a speeding or “fail to stop” ticket. The inability to charge Bardenhagen criminally brought attention to the missing element in the dangerous driving law that was approved in the Alberta Legislature recently.

William Tomlinson’s motorbike after being cut off by a truck making an unsafe left-hand turn on Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, on Rainy Creek Road in Clearwater County, Alta.
Photo courtesy of: Pamela Tomlinson
After the sentencing, the Tomlinson family and their friends started a petition to change the dangerous driving law to include unsafe left-hand turns resulting in injury and fatality.

The petition aims to change the Canadian Criminal Code section 249(1)(a) to better define the term “dangerous to the public,” which would enable the police to lay charges when a motor vehicle is operated improperly causing death.

On April 14, 2011, another incident similar to Tomlinson’s occured.

An SUV traveling north on Highway 25, north of the city of Lethbridge, Alta., slowed down to make a left turn onto the Highway 3 merge lane when it collided with a southbound motorcycle.

Both motorcycle riders, Derrin Blais, 46, and his wife Janet, 45, died at the scene, leaving behind two daughters, Chelci and Kristan.

Michael Johnston of Coalhurst, Alta., was charged with making an unsafe left turn, under the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road regulation. The charge carried a fine of $115.

According to the City of Calgary transportation department, there is an average of 252 injuries (including fatalities) per year due to left turns.

  • 2008: 3 fatalities; 291 injuries
  • 2009: 2 fatalities; 246 injuries
  • 2010: 1 fatality; 213 injuries

In 2010, the City of Calgary had 1,482 instances of improper unsafe left-hand turns. In 2011 to date, there have been 1,271 instances, according to the Calgary Police Service.

“The failure to turn left safely seems like it is a reoccurring situation,” said Mike Nunn, communications strategist for the Calgary Police Service.

When Kristan was asked if she wanted to discuss her thoughts on the incident of that day, she did not respond to the message request sent through Facebook.

“The mistake this driver made was tragic, [but] the fact it can only be awarded a small fine is even worse,” said Pamela Tomlinson. “It’s telling people it’s okay to drive dangerously. Accidents don’t happen, negligence does.”

Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor in the department of justice studies at Mount Royal University, agreed.

“The death of the biker was the result of an accident caused by another person’s poor driving, not a criminal act.”

Traffic tickets for careless driving have a maximum fine of $1,000 plus additional costs. Summonses for careless driving can carry a fine of up to $2,000 or imprisonment up to six months. At worst, those found guilty can be sentenced to both and a possible license suspension of up to two years.

The Government of Alberta explained that the Alberta Traffic Safety Act follows a strict set of guidelines.

“There is a specific charge for unsafe left-hand turns: a penalty of $115 and two demerits,” said Donna Schuhltz, public affairs officer for the Government of Alberta. “Usually in a serious accident a thorough investigation is completed, which looks into all the factors that could have contributed to the accident and proceed accordingly.”

Since losing her father one year ago, Pamela Tomlinson (left) and her family have started a petition for harsher consequences for  life-threatening incidents of negligent driving.
Photo courtesy of: Pamela Tomlinson
Sundberg went on to state: “[The accident report] would have been reviewed to see if the driver’s actions constituted the legal elements needed to be charged criminally; obviously [the actions of these perpetrators] didn’t. This is an example of where accidents happen due to non-criminal incompetence. The public wish to have punishment delivered [because] a life was taken prematurely, yet the provincial law does not allow for a criminal penalty.”

As the Tomlinson family knows that William will never come home, they feel like the petition will give them the strength to move forward.

“It’s a lot easier to go on if you feel like you have a purpose,” said Pamela. “The petition gave us that. It brought us back to the pain, took away the pain and gave us a cause.”

Family and friends of the Tomlinson family hope to achieve their goal with this petition, to make people think twice before they make that left-hand turn.

“Bardenhagen chose not to wait three seconds, giving my dad three seconds to live,” said Pamela.

sbigler@cjournal.ca

Click here to read more about Pamela Tomlinson and the loss of her father.