The police thought they had their man when 24-year-old Nathan Fahl was charged last month with various crimes after a paper carrier was struck by a speeding vehicle involved in a high-speed chase with police.
Now, it appears he may not have been the driver and in turn was released from jail following a bail hearing in Kelowna on Thursday.
In a case that Judge Ellen Burdett believed would be “circumstantial”, she let Fahl out on bail despite a prior criminal record she referred to as “horrendous”. It contains 36 convictions, including previous ones for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and flight from a peace officer -- Fahl also faces charges of impaired driving causing bodily harm, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, operating a vehicle while disqualified and use of a weapon (the vehicle).
Bail was opposed by Crown counsel David Grabavac who argued that Fahl was indeed the driver of a black Eagle Talon that blew through an RCMP road check during the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 2013 on Springfield Road. The car was coming from a house party in the Rutland area at the time.
When an RCMP officer walked towards the car around 12:25 a.m., Grabavac says the vehicle lurched towards the officer – who was forced to dive out of the way – before racing through Rutland and coming to a crashing halt after striking a fire hydrant and a pedestrian.
Steve Kania was seriously injured in the crash and had to be put into an induced coma and airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital. He is now back in Kelowna, at the intensive care unit of KGH and still suffering from memory and vision issues.
Three people were arrested at the scene: Fahl, Donald Brodie and a female passenger who officers found in the backseat of the vehicle. But the question still remains, who was driving the car? The woman has told police that Fahl and Brodie were strangers and did not say who was driving. Police later learned that all three are connected on Facebook.
Both men told police at the scene they weren’t behind the wheel, with Brodie saying he wanted to get out, but couldn’t open the passenger door.
“What was I supposed to do? I wanted out. I wasn’t driving,” he allegedly told police.
The court also heard that officers at the scene said Brodie showed genuine concern for the victim and his injuries, and later gave a detailed statement to police.
Grabavac says the statement was 34 pages long, and on one particular page, Brodie is quoted as telling officers that he wasn’t the driver seven different times, adding that he doesn’t even know how to drive standard.
Brodie also gave his account of the impact with the victim, saying the man’s head came through the windshield, almost into his lap. This is consistent with evidence from the scene, where investigators found the impact to be on the passenger side of the windshield, and injuries sustained by Brodie due to broken glass.
Another witness that was forced to swerve out of the way on Baron Road says she saw the black car barreling towards her in the wrong lane driven by a male with brown or sandy blonde hair. Pictures taken of both men following the incident show Fahl with dark brown hair, and Brodie with a short buzz-cut or shaved head and various tattoos on his face.
Meanwhile Fahl told officers he wasn’t driving because he was “g-holed” or too messed up on GHB and unable to drive at the time. He also told police he was in the backseat, which was inconsistent with what cops saw at the scene and officers at the checkpoint who said there were two men in the front seats of the vehicle.
An RCMP drug specialist inferred that Fahl was impaired by a central nervous system depressant and marijuana. He had no alcohol in his system and results of a urine test have yet to be completed. The specialist also noted Fahl had bloodshot eyes, a do-not-care attitude, and spoke in a fast and broken speech pattern.
At the courthouse to corroborate what Fahl told officers was Dillon Sams, who was at a party with the others and followed them through the roadblock in his own vehicle. A statement taken from other people at the party say Sams came back later that same morning and told at least one person, “Nate blew a checkstop”.
Sams refutes that claim and testified that it was Brodie driving the car and that Fahl was sitting in the passenger seat. Prior to getting in the car, Sams said Fahl was nearly passed out at the party and incoherent.
Admitting that he also has a criminal record, Sams told the court he was on the stand because he didn’t want to see an innocent man go to jail. That was followed by Grabavac pointing out that it took him 33 days to come to that conclusion and that he had been convicted of obstructing an officer last year, by lying to police and providing a false name.
Further adding to the confusion, Brodie denied being the driver on multiple occasions, but never specifically told police that Fahl was behind the wheel in his original statement. After being picked up on another unrelated matter on Dec. 21, Brodie admitted to police that he was in fact the driver that night. The court also heard that a letter reportedly signed by Brodie, but not authenticated by police, was given to the RCMP by Brandi Fahl, Nathan’s sister.
Michael Newcombe, Fahl’s lawyer, wrapped things up by maintaining that there wasn’t enough evidence to detain his client. He acknowledged his client's extensive criminal history, but noted that Fahl had never failed to appear in court and had a job waiting upon his release.
“This is such a weak case,” said Newcombe. “There is not enough evidence to convict him.”
Fahl was very vocal throughout the proceeding. He interrupted numerous times by breathing heavily into his microphone or by making comments under his breath, and had to be quieted by Judge Burdett on more than one occasion.
In her decision, Burdett stated that “serious, serious circumstances” surrounded the bail hearing, but Thursday’s ruling was based on whether the Crown was able to prove that Fahl was the driver of the vehicle beyond a reasonable doubt.
She felt that had not been accomplished and although Fahl did have a significant criminal record, he should be released, but with extremely strict bail conditions that include a no contact order with anyone else involved in the events that night, abstain from alcohol and drugs, and no driving.