Woman 'not truthful' to ICBC about boyfriend's hit and run

Caught in hit-and-run lie

After running away from the scene of a crash in downtown Kelowna three years ago, a Kelowna man has been identified as the driver responsible. And the owner of the vehicle involved was caught in a lie by ICBC.

In a BC Supreme Court decision published this week, Justice Lisa Warren ruled that Rhea Lafferty was behind the wheel of the Range Rover involved in a hit and run in the early hours of Feb. 4, 2017.

The SUV belonged to Ava Stellinga, 23-years-old at the time and Lafferty's then-common law partner.

On the snowy evening, sometime between 12:30 and 1 a.m., the SUV drove through a red light at Bernard Avenue and Water Street and struck a pickup truck.

As a result of the collision, the Range Rover was pushed onto the sidewalk, striking two pedestrians.

The driver of the Range Rover jumped out of the vehicle and ran away from the scene, before Stellinga arrived in a cab sometime later in, appearing “frantic.”

The extent of the injuries to the two pedestrians was not disclosed in the ruling, but a witness said one of the pedestrians was pinned by the vehicle against the wall of the nearby Blenz Coffee shop. 

In a statement she later sent to ICBC, Stellinga said: “(My Range Rover) was definitely stolen because I did not consent to anyone taking it at any time on February 3 or February 4, 2017. My vehicle was damaged and I am seeking insurance compensation in that regard.”

ICBC decided she was lying, so Stellinga chose to sue the insurance company.

Prior to the crash, Lafferty and Stellinga had been at a party at the Delta Grand Hotel, and Stellinga had parked her Range Rover at the hotel's parkade. The couple had both been drinking that night, and after they got in an argument, Stellinga said she planned to cab home, and pick up her vehicle in the morning once she was sober.

She told the court that her cab happened to come upon the scene of the crash on her way home. The driver of her cab, Harpreet Gill, contradicted Stellinga's testimony.

“(Gill) said he asked her why she was crying and she responded that her car had just been in an accident, that her boyfriend drove the car, and that they had had a fight,” Justice Warren wrote in her decision.

Const. Nadine Ricioppo was the first RCMP officer on the scene of the crash, and after running the Range Rover's plates, she went to Stellinga's home on Walnut Street, where she asked her about the crash.

“(Const. Ricioppo) testified that Ms. Stellinga’s response was that she was at a party earlier in the evening, with her boyfriend, and that she believed he was in possession of her vehicle because, after an argument, she looked for her keys and they were missing,” Justice Warren wrote. Police later found the keys inside the crashed Range Rover.

After speaking with Stellinga, Const. Ricioppo remained parked outside the home, until a man matching the description of the driver walked up the driveway. While the officer attempted to get him to stop, the man quickly entered the side of the building. He could not be located by police that night.

Phone records obtained by ICBC's lawyers show “a flurry of calls” between Lafferty's and Stellinga's phones, starting at about 12:40 a.m. that night.

“Mr. Lafferty said he could not remember any of those calls, but he speculated that he might have been trying to apologize to her for the argument,” Justice Warren said. “He denied that he was phoning her to tell her that he had been in an accident with her vehicle.”

Counsel for ICBC argued Stellinga knew Lafferty had been behind the wheel, and lied to ICBC to protect him, thus forfeiting her coverage.

Justice Warren ultimately ruled that Lafferty was in fact behind the wheel of the Range Rover during the crash, and is 100 per cent liable for the damage to the two pedestrians who were struck, while Stellinga is "vicariously," or partially, liable. Additionally, Justice Warren sided with ICBC, in that Stellinga had lied in her statement to ICBC, therefore voiding her coverage.

The amount of damages the two pedestrians are owed from the crash is unclear. 

While this ruling was made in a civil trial, at this time, criminal charges don't appear to have been laid against Lafferty for fleeing the scene of the crash. 

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