EDMONTON – The driver of a Jeep that hit and killed an Edmonton woman during an off-road demonstration at a charity event says the vehicle “launched” when he turned the key in the ignition.
Craig Supernault was “stacking” his vehicle — a common demonstration where one Jeep climbs up the front wheel of another, displaying the flexibility of its suspension.
The performance was taking place on May 18, 2013, in the parking lot of a downtown shopping mall, with a crowd of about 100 watching from distances of between two and seven metres. The vehicles were to hold the formation with their engines off and brakes engaged, then slowly dismount in reverse.
Supernault, who was testifying at the fatality inquiry into the death of 20-year-old Melinda Green, said he’d done the manoeuvre about 15 times in the past.
He described how he got out of the vehicle to let people take pictures, then climbed back in and placed his feet on the clutch and the brake.
“I looked up and turned the key,” he said, leaving a long silence before continuing.
“The Jeep launched, full throttle, with the brakes engaged and the clutch in.
“It was immediate. It was like it was waiting.”
Supernault said he tried to turn off the key, then grabbed for the gear shift.
“I saw a girl on the roof of another Jeep. I thought if I could use that Jeep to stop mine, it would be over.”
Supernault’s Jeep slammed into that Jeep and flipped on its side, the engine still revving. Green was killed in the impact.
An Edmonton Police Service inspection on Supernault’s Jeep found it had “high and irregular accelerator engagement.” The Jeep has since been sold.
Supernault said he’d been asked to perform the demonstration by one of the event’s organizers.
Earlier in the day, Sarina St. Germaine, one of the organizers of the Jeeps Go Topless show, testified it had been done at the behest of a news camera crew.
“(A co-organizer) and one of the reporters from one of the news outlets approached me,” she said. “(The organizer) said to me, ‘This guy asked if we could do this thing where one Jeep climbs on the wheels of another.'”
But CTV cameraman Chad Kruger told the inquiry he didn’t ask for it, and merely mentioned that he’d film it if it took place.
St. Germaine, who broke into tears as she recalled what happened, also testified she was careful to keep the crowd at a safe distance back as the Jeeps got into position. Spectators were allowed to approach them once one vehicle was atop the other, engine off, emergency brake engaged.
St. Germaine said she didn’t have a chance to deal with spectators before the Jeeps started to move.
“I was going to clear the area again and part the two Jeeps safely,” she said.
Both Supernault and Kruger said there was no formal discussion of how to conduct the demonstration safely before the manoeuvre got underway.
— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960