‘Fundamentally bizarre’: Edmonton woman who drove SUV into mother won’t go to prison

EDMONTON — A woman who rammed an SUV into the side of an Edmonton fast-food restaurant and critically injured her mother won’t serve any time in prison.

Donna Elder, 62, was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and dangerous driving causing bodily harm. She was accused of trying to kill her then 85-year-old mother, Katherine Triplett, outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in July 2018.

Triplett died nearly nine months later, but the charges were not upgraded.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Brian Burrows found Elder, a former teacher and nun, not guilty of attempted murder and not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder on the two other charges.

“My reason for so concluding is that Ms. Elder’s conduct was so fundamentally bizarre,” Burrows said Tuesday in his judgment.

“Even if she and her mother had argued, which the evidence does not establish, for Ms. Elder to drive her car into her mother, through the wall and window of the KFC building which she had just exited and which she knew had several other people in it, and to thereby endanger several lives including her own … is an exceedingly disproportionate reaction.”

An agreed statement of facts submitted to the court says Elder and her mother went to the KFC to order takeout food. Triplett then waited outside for her daughter to get the vehicle.

It says Elder got into her Toyota RAV4 and drove it straight toward Triplett and struck her, knocking her through the window and into the restaurant. Elder then put the vehicle into reverse and drove a second time into the restaurant, pinning Triplett against the broken furniture, says the statement.

Bystanders were quoted in the statement as hearing Triplett say, “I don’t know why my daughter Donna would try to kill me.”

Triplett was taken to hospital, where the statement says she later had to have her left leg amputated below the knee and saw her poor respiratory health deteriorate.

Elder testified in court that she had heard a friendly male voice and other female voices when she got into her vehicle. She said the male voice told her “the pepper-haired woman was going to hurt my mother.”

She said she drove into the store to stop the pepper-haired woman, but did not remember driving into it twice.

“In cross-examination she testified that she was not trying to kill the pepper-haired woman with her car in order to protect her mother,” said the judgment. “She testified that she was certainly not trying to hurt her mother.

“She testified that she did not know how driving her car into the side of the KFC would protect her mother.”

Burrows noted that several different mental health experts testified at the trial, but they disagreed on whether Elder appreciated her actions at the time of the event and her overall diagnosis.

He ultimately accepted one expert report, which concluded Elder likely suffered a hallucination, as well as Elder’s testimony during the trial.

“Her conduct here is so far off reasonable conduct for anyone, and so very far off conduct for Ms. Elder herself, that in my view, it is likely that at the relevant moment her mind failed her – she did not process the nature and quality of her actions or their wrongfulness,” concluded Burrows.

His decision will now go to the Alberta Review Board, which is an independent tribunal established under the Criminal Code of Canada to make and review dispositions in such cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.

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