Judge frees U.S. woman over fatal border crash

Father of one of two teens killed near Peace Arch says Julia Campagna got away with murder.

Daniel Sieberg Vancouver Sun

Friday, September 3, 1999

Monique Ishikawa

Kimberly Brooks

An American woman found not criminally responsible for the death of two Lower Mainland teenagers whose car she rammed at the Peace Arch border crossing was given an absolute discharge Friday without any conditions attached.

Julia Campagna, 28, was allowed to leave B.C. Supreme Court under her own volition after Justice Thimersingh M. Singh found that she does not pose a significant risk to the public.

In his decision, Singh cited a Supreme Court ruling from June 1999 that states that a person deemed not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder must be given the "least onerous and least restrictive" options with regards to their liberty, based on all the evidence provided.

He echoed earlier testimony that described Campagna as a "quick learner," who is "responsible" and a "high achiever."

Singh believes her case was an isolated incident with an "infinitesimal" likelihood of happening again.

Campagna had been charged with driving dangerously and causing the deaths of Kimberly Brooks, 18, and Monique Ishikawa, 19, on May 30, 1998, after the car she was driving smashed into the teens' car near the Peace Arch border crossing, causing a fiery explosion. Both teens died instantly.

Cat Simril Ishikawa, the father of Monique, said he wasn't surprised to learn of the judge's decision Friday since the prosecution had their hands tied.

"The laws in this country need to be changed," said Ishikawa. "This woman is getting away with murder. Of course we miss our daughter very much . . . our family has been severely diminished."

He described Friday's disposition hearing as a debate over whether Campagna should be slapped with "a feather or a balloon." And he hopes something will change because of this case.

Upon hearing the judge's decision, a clearly relieved Campagna embraced a member of her defence counsel before being whisked away by sheriffs. She was then escorted to a waiting car by her defence team, refusing to speak with reporters.

Singh said he believes that Campagna will return to the U.S., where she is a resident in Kirkland, Wash., and continue to be a productive member of society.

Singh said Campagna has complied with all of the U.S. pre-trial service recommendations, including submitting herself for 21 random drug tests that have all produced negative results for drugs and alcohol.

Campagna had been taking an hunger-suppressant drug called Xenadrine, which is available in the U.S. over-the-counter, at the time of the accident. She was suffering delusional symptoms as a result of complications from the drug, and the court found her to be mentally unstable at the time of the accident.

Singh said he felt that a combination of stresses resulting from the incident were enough to make her "extremely remorseful."

Singh could have ruled in the Crown's favour and imposed conditions on her release, such as required visits to her psychiatrist for a period of 18 to 24 months. Or he could have asked for Campagna to be detained in custody in a hospital.

But for Singh to grant these conditions, he first had to find the accused to be a significant risk to society.

Simon Verdun-Jones, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said he can understand people's frustration with the interpretation of this law.

"One feels absolutely terrible for these families, but it doesn't mean someone has to be punished," said Verdun-Jones. "It's probably better that we find a way to help the victims' families."

He said the system in Canada is such that anyone found not criminally responsible shouldn't receive disciplinary measures since they didn't understand or comprehend their actions. "It's all perfectly logical if you know the provisions of the Criminal Code," said Verdun-Jones.

The Crown argued Thursday that because of a history of bipolar mood disorder within Campagna's family, she could suffer a mental relapse and still poses a potential danger to others.

According to Dean Pelkey, a spokesman for ICBC, the parents of the victims can file for a death benefit claim that would include up to $2,500 for funeral costs. ICBC would then pursue the American insurance company covering Campagna to recover the funds.