Monday, June 10, 2013

Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable convicted of dangerous operation of an aircraft, fined $2,000 and banned from flying an aircraft for two years

RCMP Const. Jean-Michel Sauve’s aircraft came very close to this vehicle as he buzzed people gathered on Fish Lake last January. 

An RCMP constable has been convicted of the dangerous operation of an aircraft, fined $2,000 and banned from flying an aircraft for two years.

Jean-Michel Sauve was sentenced this morning in Yukon territorial court.

Sauve was off-duty on Jan. 11, 2013 when he flew his single-engine Tundra aircraft over the Fulda extreme challenge event being held on Fish Lake, “buzzing” the ground and causing the left wing to strike an empty parked vehicle.

Damage to the plane was so severe, investigators for Transport Canada were amazed the wing did not fall off, the court heard.

The 38-year-old has been a licensed private pilot for 14 years and spent 10 years with the RCMP in the North.

He currently works for the Yukon RCMP’s traffic services division, and does not fly for the police.

Sauve’s lawyer, Nic Weigelt, had been seeking a conditional discharge as opposed to a conviction, arguing that would send the appropriate public message but avoid a possible career-ending record.

In her decision this morning, Judge Karen Ruddy said she had ample evidence of Sauve’s good character and long history of work within the community.

Ruddy repeatedly said how difficult of a decision this was for her, pointing to multiple positive letters of reference that have been received by the court.

She acknowledged that there will be consequences to Sauve’s employment, but said it was difficult to know exactly what those consequences would be.

The judge said she was only told the consequences do include the possibility of termination.

While Ruddy recognized a conditional discharge would be in the best interest of Sauve, the same could not be said about the best interest of the public, she said.

It is important to maintain the public’s confidence in the justice system, the judge said.

She ruled in this case the offence was not trifling nor inconsequential.

Ruddy pointed out that Sauve flew the plane close to people three times, including once when the video shows people feeling the need to duck.

During a sentencing hearing in May, Ruddy was presented with footage seized from a camera mounted on the airplane. She also saw a video recorded from the ground.

After leaving the Whitehorse airport at 3:42 p.m. last Jan. 11, Sauve and a friend flew to Fish Lake.

The unnamed friend, who is also a private pilot, took the controls for the first pass over the lake.

Sauve was piloting the aircraft for three more passes.

For Sauve’s first pass, the aircraft was travelling 198 kilometres per hour (123 miles per hour) at 29 feet above the frozen lake, the court heard.

On his second pass, he was travelling 206 km/h (128 mph) at 36 feet above the lake.

On the third pass, Sauve was travelling 200 km/h (124 mph) at 34 feet above the lake.

It was at that point that the wing struck the unoccupied Chevrolet Equinox, causing about $9,000 worth of damage.

The plane was flown back to the Whitehorse airport, where it landed at around 4 p.m.

In court today, Ruddy said the officer was fortunate his actions did not result in the death of a person on the ground, himself, or his passenger.

Ruddy said she had some concerns that Sauve did not appreciate the seriousness of his conduct and had tried to minimize the events to investigating officers.

Last month, the Crown prosecutor told the judge Sauve did not report the accident to the air traffic control tower, to Transport Canada nor the Transportation Safety Board, though he did record the collision in the aircraft log book.

Sauve’s lawyer told the court his client believed the matter had been reported by the Fulda representative.

Sauve also told investigators that the event was “no big deal” involving “only property damage,” Ruddy said today.

Prosecutors had been seeking a $4,000 fine, but Ruddy settled on $2,000.

Ruddy said she was mindful of what Sauve is already paying.

These include $40,000 damage to his aircraft, a potential of $50,000 in fines to Transport Canada, and the $9,800 to Driving Force, the rental company, for repairs to the vehicle, $1,500 of which has already been paid, Weigelt said in May.

Along with the $2,000 fine, Sauve has been ordered to pay a $300 surcharge and $8,039 to Driving Force.

He has been prohibited from operating an aircraft for two years, and given one year to pay the fine.

“I appreciate this is not the news you wanted to hear today,” Ruddy told Sauve after giving her decision, adding that she had taken a lot of time to think about it.

In a statement after court, Sauve said: “I have always accepted full responsibility for my actions, fully co-operated with the investigation  and I feel truly sorry it happened, but now is the time to get on with making it right.”

When the RCMP spoke to the Star last month, Const. Christine Grant said there is an ongoing internal disciplinary review of Sauve’s conduct.

He remains on duty but was assigned to an administration desk after he was charged.

He remains on administrative duties pending the outcome of the review, which will take into consideration the court proceedings and the decision of the court, Grant said. 

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