The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has convicted Robert Saunders with one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and one count of dangerous driving causing death after his vehicle collided with a group of cyclists in the spring of 2018, causing fatal injuries to Jeff Vervaeke, who later died in hospital.
Vervaeke was participating in a charity bike ride called 7 Days in May when he was one of several cyclists struck by the vehicle, which collided with the group in Amherstview on Sunday, May 27, 2018. The group was raising funds for Pancreatic Cancer Canada, and on day two of their 1,200 km journey. Vervaeke passed away less than a week later on Friday, Jun. 1, 2018.
The collision occurred after a few cyclists had stopped to assist a rider who had hit a pothole and lost consciousness after falling from his bicycle. Testimony revealed that the bikes were pulled up in an alcove or driveway. The cyclists were all on the side of the road, close to the guardrail, and there were large orange and black construction barrels along the guardrail.
According to court documents, a decision had been made to call a support van to come and get the injured rider. A member of the group noticed a van approaching and thought it was their support van. The van appeared to slow down, and that same group member observed a sedan approaching at a high rate of speed behind the van. He noticed that the car was not slowing down; and he thought it was going to hit the van, according to court documents. The car then turned onto the shoulder, driving directly towards him.
After various witness testimonies, and the testimony of Saunders himself, it was found that Saunders was driving a vehicle he did not have permission to use, and the court found Saunders was speeding along Highway 33 at every point in which he passed cyclists involved in the charity ride. It was also concluded that Saunders did not brake at any point while veering onto the shoulder directly into the group of cyclists.
“I am satisfied on all the evidence that Mr. Saunders engaged in a pattern of dangerous driving long before his fatal collision with the cyclists standing at the side of the road,” Justice Robert N. Beaudoin stated in his decision.
“Mr. Saunders had an opportunity to apply his brakes and he failed to so,” Justice Beaudoin continued. “This split-second emergency event was entirely of his own creation. He was driving too fast and he was following the vehicle ahead of him too closely. He could not see the cyclists on the side of the road because he was not attentive to any of his surroundings.”
The court documents can be read in their entirety on the CanLII website.
The 7 Days in May cyclists have paid tribute to and hosted events in honour of Vervaeke since the collision three years ago.