By Andru McCracken
Kathy Molendyk was shocked when she heard the not guilty verdict in a case of Dangerous Driving Causing Death that took her partner’s life three years ago. What she regrets most is not having the opportunity to tell the driver how important Dwayne Needham was to her, his family and friends and to his community.
If the driver of the truck, Vanessa White, had been found guilty, the family would have been allowed to read victim impact statements they had prepared. Instead she was found innocent, and the family found themselves not able to read them, though they were made available to White. Molendyk wonders if she’ll read them.
After she was acquitted of the charges, White expressed her remorse, according to Molendyk. She recognized that the driver who was killed could have been anyone, even her own father.
Molendyk said during testimony it was revealed that White had tried to kill herself, distraught because of the death caused by the accident.
Molendyk said that pursuing criminal charges, in retrospect, was not the right thing for the Crown to do.
Information that appeared sound in the preliminary hearing fell to pieces during the trial, the case for dangerous driving causing death, a criminal charge, came apart.
“The family was split. We probably didn’t have to go through all of this,” said Molendyk, “She had made a plea to go with lesser charges.”
Molendyk said prosecutors knew they were taking a risk going with a criminal charge, but took it anyway.
White said she only fought the charge of dangerous driving to keep from going to jail, but Molendyk didn’t ever want her to go to jail. She hoped that the woman would take a defensive driving course, be given community hours as a sort of recognition of Needham’s volunteerism and made to attend grief counselling sessions to help understand the hurt she had caused.
Needham was a much loved and well regarded in the community for his volunteerism, his good nature and his love of hockey.
Needham had told Kathy a year before the accident that he wasn’t afraid of death.
He told her he knew they were going to a better place.
The couple had big plans together, retirement was near at hand.
“All the things that we had planned to do, that we were hoping to do in the fall… We were going to do a bit of traveling once he retired. Go on a cruise,” she said. “He bought a boat and a tent trailer only the year before with enough room for all the grandkids to go fishing… All of that stuff is not going to happen.”
Needham was devoted to fishing and to hockey. He taught one of his grandchildren Tanner how to skate. Tanner is now playing for the Western Hockey League.
Needham was a member of the Elks Club.
Molendyk is involved in a lot, and she said that meant Needham was involved in a lot too.
“He was a good friend. We did everything together. He was thoughtful and forgiving.”
Molendyk went to a psychic in Valemount, despite being a lifelong skeptic (Needham was ‘very much into the afterlife and reincarnation’). She was wary of giving information that might lead the psychic to appropriate answers. Despite that, the psychic nailed it.
“Some of the things she came up with were so weird. She told me we had a memorial, but we don’t like going there, that is wasn’t far from here, and that, ‘He wants you to go and stop there tonight, he will be there.’”
Kathy went to the memorial. She was supposed to check on some solar lights that hadn’t been working but were recently repaired.
She arrived at the roadside memorial near dusk, and, no surprise, the lights were not on.
“I got down there and 10 feet away they came on.” Molendyk was stunned.
“After that I get into the car and pull out and our song comes on the radio. What the heck!”
Another noteworthy indication of Needham’s feeling about death: his favorite song was ‘Don’t fear the reaper.’
Molendyk said Needham’s death has been hard on the family near and far, the exchange students and foster kids feel the loss as well and it’s caused some strife within the family.
When she posted a news story about the trial, reactions ranged from anger to condolence, all of them strong.
“All the comments tell me that Dwayne was well loved.”