Alberta politician Derek Fildebrandt denies hit and run on neighbour's van
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, September 6, 2017 12:38PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 6, 2017 5:35PM EDT
EDMONTON -- An Alberta legislature member accused of hit and run with his pickup truck says he didn't do it.
Derek Fildebrandt testified in court Wednesday that if he had backed into his neighbour's van, he would have owned up to it right away.
"I would've left a note on the front windshield. It's the decent thing to do," Fildebrandt said in traffic Edmonton court.
He also said given that he is in the public eye, it would have been foolish to run from a practical standpoint.
"Considering my occupation, it wouldn't have made sense for me not to stop."
Fildebrandt, 31, is accused of backing into his neighbour's van the morning of June 6, 2016 and then driving away.
He said his truck -- which he traded in about a month after the van was damaged -- had warning sensors and beeps that would have alerted him to a looming impact. He said the radio was playing but not so loud he wouldn't have heard the warning beeps or a crash if he had hit the van.
The member of the legislature for Strathmore-Brooks has pleaded not guilty.
Although the case was first in court in February, the charge only became public knowledge last month. It was one of a trio of revelations that forced Fildebrandt to quit the caucus of Alberta's new United Conservative Party and sit as an Independent.
The new party was formed when the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties merged.
Fildebrandt, known as an acerbic, take-no-prisoners, bulldog defender of the public purse, was also found to have been subletting on Airbnb his taxpayer-subsidized accommodation in Edmonton and double-expensing some meals.
He acted as his own lawyer in February. At that time, the van's owner, Amy Rawlinson, testified she had been sitting on her condo balcony that morning when she saw Fildebrandt walk in the vicinity of his ruby-red Ford F-150 truck.
She said she heard a loud crash and then saw a red pickup driving away and her work van damaged.
A day later, she said, she saw Fildebrandt and the truck, got the licence plate number and contacted police.
Rawlinson and Fildebrandt lived at the condo complex near the legislature, but didn't know each other.
She testified Fildebrandt offered to settle with her out of court. At the trial, Fildebrandt suggested that the 22 members of his then-Wildrose caucus could be called upon to confirm that he was with them at the time in question.
The trial was put over for seven months, until Wednesday, so Fildebrandt could round up witnesses. During that time he also hired a lawyer, Dale Fedorchuk, who reiterated to the CBC last month that they would indeed call witnesses to prove Fildebrandt was at a Wildrose caucus meeting.
No such witnesses were called Wednesday. When Fildebrandt took the stand, he said he could not remember if he made it to the caucus meeting.
Commissioner Stewart Douglas is to deliver his verdict Dec. 18.
Fedorchuk said the case boils down to whom is to be believed. He noted there is no physical evidence tying Fildebrandt's truck to the hit and run. Fildebrandt testified he never saw any evidence of damage to his vehicle.
Fedorchuk also suggested that Fildebrandt's face is so often in the news that Rawlinson may have seen someone who looked like him and unconsciously linked the two.
Prosecutor Lorna Mackie reminded court that Rawlinson had said she had no idea Fildebrandt was a legislature member, but positively identified him as a person at the condo and with the red pickup.
Fildebrandt tried to have a mistrial declared Wednesday, but he withdrew his application when the commissioner said a decision on that wouldn't come until at least mid-November.
Fildebrandt declined to speak with reporters afterwards.