When considering wildlife rescue on the highway, it's important to keep in mind that the worst-case scenario is not the potential death of distressed animals.
The worst-case scenario is what happened when business student and animal-lover Emma Czornobaj stopped her car in the fast lane, put her hazard lights on and got out of her car to help a family of ducks get off of the shoulder of Highway 30, south of Montreal.
The ducks ended up ignoring her and as she walked back to her car, André Roy was approaching on a motorcycle with his 16-year-old daughter Jessie riding pillion. Cruising at approximately 120 kilometres per hour in a 90 kilometre per hour zone, Roy's Harley Davidson collided with Czornobaj's parked car projecting his daughter into the rear windshield, over the car and eventually pinned underneath the front of the Honda Civic. They died shortly after impact. All of this happened while Pauline Volikakis, wife and mother of the victims, watched from her own motorcycle and also crashed into the car, causing her to suffer serious injuries.
Czornobaj was eventually charged with two counts of criminal negligence causing death as well as two counts of dangerous driving causing death and after four days of deliberations in July, a jury found Emma Czornobaj guilty on all four counts.
Technically, Emma Czornobaj was looking at life in prison, the maximum sentence for criminal negligence causing death. But because this was Czornobaj's first offence, prosecution was asking for a nine month prison sentence, 240 hours of community service, and a five-year suspension of her driver's license.
Even her lawyer Marc Labelle admitted that his client's behaviour was "stupid" but argued that as a 26-year-old former Dean's list student and financial analyst with no priors, that 240 hours of community service should have sufficed as punishment since she had no criminal intent.
Quebec Superior Court Judge Éliane Perreault obviously disagreed today when she sentenced Czornobaj to 90 days in prison. But because the sentence is only 90 days, it allowed Judge Perreault to order an intermittent sentence that will be served only on weekends. She will also have to perform 240 hours of community service and will be barred from driving for 10 years. Labelle has said he plans to appeal the driving ban, but that the prison sentence is "fit and reasonable."
Over the summer, an online petition named "Please don't send Emma Czornobaj to jail" asking Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée to apply the most lenient sentence possible received over 18,000 signatures.
Volikakis reacted negatively to this public outpouring of support: "Hey, wake up, people," she said at a sentencing hearing in September, "you are saying that this person's negligent driving that caused the deaths of two people—my husband and my daughter—is to be treated as an action that should be overlooked? Would you turn your back and look the other way if it happened to you?"
In a press conference held at the Montreal courthouse today, Volikakis said that the sentence was a fair one and reflects the gravity of Czornobaj's crime. She concluded her statement by adding that the one positive outcome of this could be making people realize that "driving is a privilege."