Phone booth attack at trial

The trial for a man accused of intentionally driving his car into an occupied phone booth in tiny Coalmont, B.C. opened in Penticton Tuesday. 

Roland Giroux, 69, is charged with assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm for a 2015 incident that made provincial headlines.

The basic facts of the Crown’s case were accepted by the defence at the outset of the trial. 

On March 29, 2015 at about 12:30 p.m., Warren Spence was making a call at the phone booth on Front Street when Giroux drove by him in an unlicensed and uninsured red 1989 Ford Escort.

Shortly afterwards, Giroux came back down the street and stopped the car, lining it up with Spence and the booth. He then accelerated the car and crashed into the booth at about 40 km/hr, sending Spence flying. 

After the crash, while still in his car, Giroux told Spence “if I can get this car going, I’m going to finish the job.”

Giroux proceeded to get out of the car and chase Spence around with a tall wooden walking stick, until Spence fended him off with a shovel he retrieved from the back of his own truck.

About 15 minutes later, Giroux called a friend and asked him to help remove his car from the crash site. During that conversation, he told the other party he had just “taken out” Spence.

Court heard Giroux and Spence have a tumultuous history, with “bad blood” between the two due to a joint business effort that went south. 

Giroux, however, testified he has no hard feelings for Spence. He noted Spence was actually the one that rescued him from a near-fatal snowmobile accident in 2007 that resulted in a brain injury for Giroux.

The defence Tuesday appeared to be building a case that the crash happened while Giroux was experiencing an epileptic seizure. 

Giroux appeared in court extremely frail, relying on his walking stick and sporting an eye patch. Court heard he has dealt with a long list of serious heart and lung conditions which have involved a quadruple bypass surgery and two pacemakers.

He also has a bladder cancer diagnosis and lasting neurological issues stemming from his brain injury. 

Two doctors testified for the defence, providing accounts of Giroux’s medical history before and after the crash.

Giroux’s general practitioner was working in the emergency room at the hospital when he was admitted following the crash with a through-and-through puncture wound on his lip from his teeth.

“I felt that it was a significant injury, given what was essentially a low-speed impact, this was more injury than I would have expected if he were able to brace himself,” said Dr. Ella Monro.

She went onto to testify that it is “entirely possible” Giroux was in an epileptic blackout at the time of the crash.

Crown prosecutor John Swanson pressed Dr. Monro under cross examination, on whether a person having an epileptic seizure is capable of lining up a car and driving it at a phone booth.

“I can tell you when someone has an epileptic seizure, they are not able to control themselves,” she responded.

Neurologist Dr. Niall Davidson echoed that point during his testimony, explaining patients with epilepsy that direct aggression towards other people do it in an “unconscious” fashion, usually due to an automatic defence mechanism. 

He went on to say it is “virtually unheard of” for a patient experiencing an epileptic seizure to select a weapon — like was the case with Giroux’s walking stick — and pursue a person. 

Giroux testified that he remembers very little from the bulk of the incident, only coming to after he had crashed into the phone booth.

He testified he was driving a load of goat manure to a friend down the road when he saw Spence in the phone booth. He continued, dropped off the manure and spoke with a separate friend, before making his way back home past the phone booth — which is when he blacked out.

Court previously heard Giroux had a history of epileptic seizures that saw him lose consciousness about once a month. Since being prescribed anti-seizure medication, the episodes have ceased. 

He maintained the failed business venture with Spence ended mutually and he harbours no grudge towards him. 

Closing arguments will take place Wednesday morning.

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