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First witness called in Arens trial

Witnessing a fatal collision during a family outing was traumatic and life-changing, a Red Deer father testified at the start of a trial into a deadly city crash on Canada Day 2010.

Thomas Smith, 29, was the first witness to be called in the trial of Rodney Ross Arens. Arens, 36, is a building contractor who has lived in Rimbey, Red Deer and Sylvan Lake. The trial opened on Wednesday.

Arens is charged with eight offences in connection with the collision at the intersection of Kerry Wood and Taylor Drives, near Bower Ponds on the evening of July 1, 2010.

Charges include impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing injury, dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing injury.

He is also facing multiple counts of refusing to provide breath samples to police investigating a fatal or injury collision, and breaching an undertaking prohibiting him from using alcohol and street drugs.

He is on trial before Justice Kirk Sisson in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench.

Anouluck “Jeffrey” Chanminaraj, 13, died at the scene. His older sister and brother, Stephanie and Jamie, were injured. They were on their way to see the fireworks to be set off to celebrate Canada Day 2010 at Bower Ponds.

“This incident has been permanently implanted in my brain,” Smith said during cross-examination by defence counsel Donna Derie-Gillespie.

He had already expressed to Crown prosecutor Wayne Silliker, second counsel to Robin Snider, the impact the collision has had on his life.

“There was a death that I was witness to,” Smith said to Silliker.

“It was Canada Day. It should be a day of celebration.”

Smith testified that he was taking his wife and son to watch the fireworks and was stopped on Kerry Wood Drive with his window rolled down when he heard the sound of an engine revving up.

“I heard the engine rev up to speed up and the next thing that happened was a collision in the middle of the intersection,” said Smith.

“I heard the black truck engine rev up to try to beat the red light.”

A black pickup truck heading northwest on Taylor Drive struck the passenger side of a small car that was stopped in the intersection and was just starting to turn left onto Kerry Wood Drive, said Smith.

The impact spun the car in a circle while the truck jumped the median and landed facing the other way, alongside the traffic island at the northwest side of the intersection, he said.

Smith called 911 from his cellphone and then went to the stricken car. There were three people inside. The boy in the front passenger seat was not breathing, said Smith.

Taking instructions from the 911 operator and focused on the people in the car, Smith said he took little notice of the man who was driving the truck.

Smith said he saw the man get out of the truck, light a cigarette and sit down on the curb. He said he would not recognize the man again because it was getting dark.

Witness Carlene Omoth, who was walking near the intersection, said she heard brakes squeal and people yelling as the two vehicles collided in the intersection. Omoth, 23, testified that she froze at first, then rushed to the car after watching the truck strike it and spin it around in the intersection.

She said she held the car driver’s hand and called her boyfriend for her.

“She wanted me to check on her brother, but he was ... I was more concerned with her.”

In custody and awaiting proceedings on other, more recent charges, Arens was allowed to leave the prisoner’s box and sit beside his lawyer during witness testimony on Wednesday. Although his hands were free, his ankles were shackled and an Alberta Sheriff was positioned behind him.

Snider said she and Silliker plan to call 30 witnesses, including civilians, experts and police.

Further civilians are to take the stand today.

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