Danny Lasante has been found guilty of polluting a stream when the fuel truck he was driving went off a forest road and landed in Lemon Creek in 2013.
The provincial government, also charged, was acquitted Thursday in Nelson court.
Lasante was convicted of one count under the Environmental Management Act for causing the spill of about 35,000 litres of jet fuel into the creek. Lasante’s employer, Executive Flight Centre, was supplying fuel to the provincial government to fight a forest fire at the time.
The spill polluted the Slocan river, resulting in an evacuation and orders not to drink the water.
Judge Lisa Mrozinski found that even though Lasante was not given precise directions by his employer, Executive Flight Centre, regarding which road to take when leaving Highway 6, it was his actions once he had left the highway that caused the spill.
According to Mrozinski’s written reasons for judgement, shortly after Lasante had turned onto Lemon Creek Road he encountered several signs stating that the road was closed and was unmaintained.
He continued on, already realizing he was on the wrong road, then drove over a particularly narrow curved portion of road that required him to run his wheels off the travelled part of the road on the creek side. Shortly thereafter he turned around, again travelling the narrow curve, on which the road shoulder gave way and his truck slid into the creek.
Mrozinski ruled that Lasante did not take proper precautions when faced with an unmaintained road and signage to indicate that it was closed.
“Mr. Lasante did nothing to assure himself he was on a safe road. He made no inquiries; he made no effort to get his bearings; he did not step out of his vehicle to examine the road. In these circumstances, I find that Mr. Lasante has not met his onus to establish on balance that he had a reasonably held belief the road was safe at the point where the spill occurred.”
There was much discussion in the trial and in Mrozinski’s reasons about the instructions Lasante did or did not receive from Executive Flight Centre and from the Ministry of Forests about which road to take from Highway 6. She found that even though those directions could have been better, they did not cause the accident.
She also found the provincial government not guilty.
“I have found the spill occurred because Mr. Lasante failed to exercise the degree of care a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances. Part of that finding is based on my finding that the signs posted by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) on Lemon Creek Road should have been sufficient to warn any reasonable driver, let alone a driver holding a class 1 license hauling a dangerous substance, that danger lay ahead. To the extent MOTI was obliged to take all reasonable steps to avoid this spill, I find it did so by the signage it posted along Lemon Creek road: signage which indicated the road was not only unmaintained but that it was closed.”
Executive Flight Centre was originally a defendant in the case but charges were dropped in October because delays between the initial charges and the trial prejudiced a fair hearing. That decision is currently under appeal. Lasante also attempted to have Mrozinski stay the changes against him for reasons of delay, but Mrozinski rejected this, saying the delay in Lasante’s case was not as long.
The Lemon Creek pollution case began as a private prosecution by Slocan Valley resident Marilyn Burgoon before it was taken over by the federal Crown.
“I am disappointed,” Burgoon said after Thursday’s court decision. “I thought it should have been a shared responsibility. I think what is most disappointing is that Executive Flight Centre has not been held accountable at all, and that is why there is an appeal.”
“It does not give me much confidence in the government to be in control of anything they do,” she added. “To me the most responsible should be the government who is the overseer of all of this.”
Lasante will be sentenced on April 3.