Quebec man faces charges of dangerous driving causing deaths of two people

By Patrice Bergeron

AMQUI, Que. – The driver of a pickup truck that killed two people and injured nine others Monday in the Quebec town of Amqui was facing dangerous driving charges after police said he drove into pedestrians chosen at random, including children.

Court documents signed Tuesday by a justice of the peace identified the accused as 38-year-old Steeve Gagnon of Amqui.

Gagnon was scheduled to appear in court later Tuesday to be charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death. A spokeswoman for the Crown said more charges will follow once prosecutors receive all the evidence from police.

Quebec provincial police said earlier they believe the suspect acted deliberately and with premeditation, but they did not suggest a motive.

Provincial police Sgt. Claude Doiron told reporters near the scene that the investigation suggests the driver swerved from one side of the road to the other over a considerable distance to hit victims who ranged in age from a baby to 77 years old.

“We’re talking about pedestrians who were walking all along the (road), on both sides in fact, over a certain distance,” he said.

Doiron said it’s unclear whether the suspect knew any of the victims. It’s not clear what the motive was, or the suspect’s state of mind at the time of the crash, he added.

Gerald Charest, 65, and Jean Lafreniere, 73, were killed. The injured include two children – one who is less than one year old and another who is about three – who were both seriously hurt but whose lives are not in danger. On Monday night, a crumpled baby stroller could be seen off the side of the road behind police tape.

Six of the injured, including the children, were airlifted to a hospital in Quebec City, where three adults remained in critical condition as of Tuesday morning. One victim remained in hospital in Amqui, where their condition was described as stable.

David Morin, a local resident, said he witnessed the panicked moments that followed the tragedy. A shaken Morin told reporters on Tuesday he couldn’t get the image of one of the victims out of his head.

“He was alive when I arrived, and when I went to see another person, I came back and he was dead,” he said.

Morin described the moments that followed, as residents ran to the aid of the victims. He recalled sitting next to a woman dressed in pink, and asking her name as others helped the two young children.

The suspect turned himself into police shortly after the Monday afternoon collisions. Police said they were investigating him for hit-and-run and murder, but that the final charges would be decided by the Crown.

Doiron said the suspect had not “necessarily” had previous encounters with police and was co-operating well with authorities.

The tragedy comes less than six weeks after two young children were killed when a driver crashed a city bus into a daycare in Laval, north of Montreal. The 51-year-old bus driver is facing first-degree murder charges in that alleged attack.

Francois Bonnardel, the province’s public security minister, said Tuesday that it’s too soon to say what motivated the Amqui driver, or whether the two suspects had anything in common. He said the government will try to learn lessons to help prevent future tragedies, but that it’s hard to fully eliminate all possibility of an isolated attack.

“This murderous folly is hard to prevent,” he said at a press conference. “We can put everything in place, and then tomorrow morning someone can decide once again to get into a car, into a truck, and strike.”

Both Morin and Kristina Michaud, the local Bloc Quebecois MP who is from Amqui, described the town of 6,000 as a peaceful place where everybody knows everyone else.

“Here in Amqui, when we hear a police, ambulance or fire truck siren, we glue ourselves to the windows, because we ask ourselves ‘Who is it? I must know the person,”’ said Michaud, who said her own mother regularly walks the road where the crash happened.

“Yesterday, it was several people we knew (who were affected.) It’s extremely troubling,” she added.

“The whole community wishes it were just a bad dream.”