Jury begins deliberations in Lac-Mégantic criminal trial

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An aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, following the July 2013 derailment and fire.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
SHERBROOKE, Que. — After months of testimony and argument, the fate of three Canadian railroaders is in the hands of a Quebec jury. Deliberations in the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train disaster trial began on Wednesday, four months after the criminal proceedings against three former Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway employees began.

MM&A engineer Thomas Harding, manager Jean Demaître, and dispatcher Richard Labrie have each been charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death following 2013’s fatal oil train wreck.

Government prosecutors have argued that the actions of the three men directly led to the derailment and explosion that killed 47 people and leveled more than 30 buildings. Prosecutors presented evidence and testimony for more than two months. When the prosecution rested in December, the defendants announced that they would not be putting forth any evidence or witnesses. The jury was released for the holidays and closing arguments began on Jan. 3.

MM&A train No. 2 rolled downhill into Lac-Mégantic after a fire started on the lead locomotive. A local fire department responded to the fire and shut off the locomotive, causing the air brakes to slowly release. Harding, the engineer, had only applied hand brakes to the five locomotives, a remote control caboose and a spacer car.
Harding’s attorney argued this week in his closing arguments that MM&A had an insufficient safety culture and that is what led to the runaway train and derailment.

After closing arguments, and out of the presence of the jury, attorneys for Demaître and Labrie filed motions to dismiss arguing that prosecutors had not presented sufficient evidence to convict the manger or the dispatcher. The judge rejected the motion and said that would be up to the jury.

The judge, Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas, told the jurors that it was up to them as to who was responsible for the fatal wreck. The judge left the jury with a few final words about the victims before letting them begin their deliberations.

"It may seem as though the trial didn't focus on the victims. That was done intentionally. I didn't allow any evidence that I felt could have hurt the victims any further," Dumas said, according to CBC News. "Throughout the trial, the victims have never been far from our thoughts."

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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