Ponoka man acquitted in vehicle rampage

Man was charged with a number of offences

A Ponoka man has been acquitted of all charges related to a violent hostage taking and vehicle rampage in Red Deer in 2013.

Red Deer provincial court Judge Gord Deck concluded that a powerful medication that Joseph Paul Donovan, 37, was on to treat an auto-immune disorder meant he was suffering from “non-insane automatism” at the time of the offences.

“Accordingly, I find he is not guilty on all of the charges,” said Deck on Monday.

Donovan had been charged with a number of offences including: assaulting a police officer, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, uttering threats, failing to stop at the scene of an accident.

Donovan was arrested on July 31, 2013 after police were called with reports of an erratic driver.

Police alleged he had taken a hostage into his vehicle before going on a rampage behind the wheel. He plowed into two pedestrians, three vehicles and a fence within 20 minutes in Highland Green and other nearby neighbourhoods.

Fortunately, those struck were not seriously injured. The hostage eventually managed to escape.

Defence lawyer Michael Scrase had argued that Donovan should not be held criminally responsible because he was under the influence of a drug known to cause delirium and Donovan had a past history of automatism, which is defined as acting without being consciously aware of what you are doing.

A doctor had testified that patients taking a weekly dose of the medication Donovan had been prescribed daily were warned of the possibility of developing psychosis. A patient taking the dose at the level Donovan was would be a “rare finding,” the doctor had testified.

The Crown had argued that Donovan had contributed to his delirium by not taking his medications and drinking alcohol.

However, Donovan’s partner said she prepared his medications and he was taking them as prescribed.

In his ruling, Deck pointed out that Donovan had exhibited bizarre behaviour when the offences were committed. He had no recollection of what had happened, no motive, and was horrified when he found out what he had done.

Doctors said that Donovan, who had no previous criminal record, was highly unlikely to re-offend once he was off the problem medication.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com