MONTREAL––Would-be duckling rescuer Emma Czornobaj, 26, of Châteauguay, Quebec, was on December 18, 2014 sentenced to serve 45 weekends (90 days) in prison, and do 240 hours of community service for causing the June 2010 deaths of motorcyclists Andre Roy, 50, and his daughter Jessie, 16.
Czornobaj also lost her driving privileges for 10 years.
At least 24 people in the U.S. and Canada have lost their lives in ill-considered spontaneous attempts to rescue animals from traffic, but Andre and Jessie Roy were the only victims who were not themselves the rescuers.
Stopped in fast lane
Explained Postmedia News reporter Paul Cherry, “The collision occurred the evening of June 27, 2010 on the westbound section of Highway 30 in Candiac, a suburb of Montreal. Czornobaj, driving a Honda Civic, was heading home after having taken care of a pet for her boss at the time. She stopped in the left-hand lane of the highway, got out, and tried to rescue about seven ducklings who were on a very narrow left-hand shoulder.”
Andre Roy, riding his motorcycle behind Czornobaj, with Jessie as passenger, was unable to stop. The motorcycle hit the back of Czornobaj’s car, still doing approximately the speed limit. Both Roys were hurled through the air and died on impact. The crash was witnessed by Pauline Volikakis, Andre Roy’s wife and mother of Jessie Roy, who was farther back on her own motorcycle.
Czornobaj was on June 20, 2010 convicted by jury of two counts each of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. The verdict was rendered on the fourth day of deliberation following a three-week trial.
Faced double life sentence
Czornobaj could have been sentenced to serve two life terms in prison for the criminal negligence convictions, plus another 14 years for the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle conviction.
“In passing sentence,” wrote Peter Rakobowchuk of Canadian Press, “Quebec Superior Court Justice Eliane Perreault noted that Czornobaj showed no remorse during the trial and had described the tragedy as an accident. Perreault said the accused showed a ‘reckless disregard for the safety of others’ when she left her vehicle to tend to the ducklings.”
Highway 30 at the location of the collision is a high-walled narrow high-speed conduit with no emergency lanes.
Attorney Marc Labelle, representing Czornobaj, told media that “She does have regrets and does have remorse. She is a shy person, an inexperienced person, and she was not able to explain that properly during the court process.”
Labelle, who appealed Czornobaj’s conviction in August 2014, said he probably would not appeal the sentence.
“Make Way For Ducklings”
The Czornobaj conviction was also subject of a Change.org protest petition that attracted 19,081 signatures, supported by a Facebook page with 354 members.
Commentators on the Czornobaj case made frequent reference to Make Way for Ducklings, a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. Selling more than two million copies since 1941, and winner of the 1942 Caldecott Medal for excellence in children’s literature, Make Way for Ducklings depicts a Boston police officer named Michael stopping traffic to enable Mrs. Mallard to lead her flock through traffic near the Boston Public Garden.
Called cops, got ticket
Also perhaps thinking of Make Way for Ducklings, new mother Hallie Bibeau, 33, of Newfields, New Hampshire, called 911 on July 17, 2014, under circumstances similar to those of the Czornobaj case, but ended up with a $44 traffic ticket after attempting her own intervention on behalf of several wayward ducklings.
Related Portsmouth Herald reporter Jason Schreiber, “Bibeau was traveling eastbound on Route 101 near Exit 8 in Brentwood and noticed
a vehicle swerve off to the right side of the highway up ahead. Bibeau, who was in the passing lane, hit the brakes and quickly pulled off into the median strip on the left-hand side because she couldn’t safely cross to the right side. That’s when she spotted a flock of about eight ducklings.”
After calling 911 to summon police, Schreiber continued, “Bibeau noticed that the mother duck had been struck and killed in the breakdown lane. The motherless ducklings were now attempting to waddle over to the westbound lanes. Bibeau said the ducklings made a couple of attempts to cross together. Two of them were hit.”
Bibeau, who gave birth to son Camden four weeks earlier, captured two ducklings and––after getting her ticket for stopping and leaving her car in the median strip––took them to the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine. One duckling died soon after arrival.
Dogs, ducklings, and turtles are in that order the animals most likely to be involved in traffic rescue fatalities, according to the ANIMALS 24-7 log of such cases. Almost a year after the Roy fatalities in Candiac, Edward Gardner, 38, of Naperville, Illinois, was on May 30, 2011 killed by an airport limousine while trying to shoo a family of ducklings off the roadway near the O’Hare Oasis at Schiller Park. Gardner apparently did not use his vehicle to block oncoming traffic, with flashers on, as is recommended when traffic conditions are otherwise safe for attempting a rescue.
“I had a very similar experience in the same area about a decade ago,” commented Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi. “My companion and I were somehow able to save every member of the family, including the mother duck, who certainly could fly. I don’t even remember how we managed to catch her, but we did, and they were all released onto a local river and went on their way. That was a wonderful day.”
Hindi also recalled an instance, also in May 2011, when “SHARK investigator Mike Kobliska and I encountered an enormous snapping turtle who seemed intent on crossing Interstate 80, which certainly would have resulted in death since there was a cement divider in the middle. We lifted the turtle from the highway to the other side of the highway fence to a safe area. The snapper showed his appreciation by trying to take a chunk out of us, but that was beside the point. He was a gorgeous animal, in a snapping turtle sort of way, and we were happy to get him to a safe place and perhaps even prevent an accident.
“I remember an animal control officer with whom I sometimes worked with in West Chicago,” Hindi continued, “who gave his life trying to save a dog from a highway a couple decades ago. Dealing with speeding traffic is no game, but saving lives is a feeling that cannot be bought––it can only be achieved.”
But the “high” of trying to effect a rescue without adequate forethought and safety precautions all too often results in cases like that of Danny Bampton, age 9, of St. Charles County, Missouri.
Wrote Joel Currier of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Investigators say the boy was riding with his mother when he saw an injured duck in the road and asked her whether he could save it. After she pulled the car over, Danny hopped out and put the duck in a roadside culvert on the south side of the highway. When he tried to cross back over the rural, two-lane road to his family’s car, Danny was struck by a westbound Subaru Legacy driven by Alayna R. Hitz, 18, of Wentzville. He died at the scene.”
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