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Canada Man who pleaded guilty in deadly crash fires second lawyer, seeks to withdraw plea

02:06  18 january  2020
02:06  18 january  2020 Source:   edmontonjournal.com

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a person posing for a photo: Natalie Hawkins, a 43-year-old mother of two from Fort McMurray, died May 20, 2016, when her car was struck by another motorist in Fort Saskatchewan. Hawkins had recently been evacuated from Fort McMurray due to the wildfires. Jonny Wakefield/Postmedia Natalie Hawkins, a 43-year-old mother of two from Fort McMurray, died May 20, 2016, when her car was struck by another motorist in Fort Saskatchewan. Hawkins had recently been evacuated from Fort McMurray due to the wildfires. Jonny Wakefield/Postmedia

A man who admitted to dangerous driving in the 2016 death of a Fort McMurray mother fired his second lawyer Friday, telling a judge he wants to withdraw his earlier guilty plea.

Forty-three-year-old Natalie Hawkins died May 20, 2016, after a speeding Mercedes sedan slammed into the rear of her SUV in Fort Saskatchewan. Hawkins, a mother of two who worked for a mortgage company, lived in Fort McMurray and was in town after being evacuated during the wildfires.

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The driver of the car — Bruderheim man Todd Lewis Lambert — pleaded guilty November 27, 2018, to dangerous driving in Hawkins’ death.

But instead of going to sentencing, Lambert’s case has languished for over a year. Lambert fired two lawyers — one just minutes before a court appearance — and now says he wants to withdraw his guilty plea on the basis he got bad advice.

According to an agreed statement of facts filed with the court, Lambert smoked marijuana prior to getting behind the wheel and was under medical orders not to drive.

While driving, Lambert suffered a seizure. Police and witnesses saw his Mercedes C240 pass through a red light and exceed 150 km/h. At an intersection near the local Walmart, the vehicle collided with Hawkins’ SUV. She was killed almost instantly.

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Collision re-constructionists determined the Mercedes was travelling about 200 km/h at the time of impact. Lambert had about two grams of marijuana on him at the time of his arrest.

 Natalie Hawkins’ SUV after it was struck by a speeding motorist in May 2016. Hawkins died almost instantly. Natalie Hawkins’ SUV after it was struck by a speeding motorist in May 2016. Hawkins died almost instantly.

Lambert ultimately pleaded guilty to a single count of dangerous driving causing death.

Lambert was initially set to be sentenced March 4, 2019, but sentencing was delayed over issues with the pre-sentencing reports. His most recent sentencing hearing, set for Sept. 13, 2019, was delayed when Lambert fired lawyer Wayne Gardner about 15 minutes prior.

Lambert’s new lawyer, Lance McClean, informed the court Friday that he and Lambert had fundamental disagreements about how to proceed, informing the court his client wished to withdraw his guilty plea.

Queen’s Bench Justice James Neilson allowed McClean to withdraw as Lambert’s lawyer given their “irreconcilable differences” and permitted Lambert to proceed as a self-represented defendant. However, he gave him just five days to complete his application to strike the guilty plea.

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Neilson also spoke directly to Hawkins’ husband, mother and twin sister, calling the situation “most unfortunate.”

“He’s entitled to proceed with the application but obviously I put a very short leash on that,” Neilson said.

a man looking at the camera:  Nicole Hawkins (left) and her mother Hilda speak to media after Todd Lambert announced his desire to withdraw his dangerous driving plea in the death of their sister and daughter, Natalie Hawkins. Natalie was killed May 20, 2016 when a car slammed into her SUV in Fort Saskatchewan. Nicole Hawkins (left) and her mother Hilda speak to media after Todd Lambert announced his desire to withdraw his dangerous driving plea in the death of their sister and daughter, Natalie Hawkins. Natalie was killed May 20, 2016 when a car slammed into her SUV in Fort Saskatchewan.

Speaking outside court, Hilda and Nicole Hawkins said they are upset and frustrated. They recalled a “happy-go-lucky” mother who helped evacuate other people’s kids during the Fort McMurray fires.

“She’d be standing buying something in a store and perfect strangers would come up and start talking to her and telling her their troubles,” recalled Hilda, Hawkins’ mother. “She had that kind of face … she would be there for them, and listen.”

The crash left Hawkins’ two daughters, aged 12 and 19 at the time, without their mother. “Her dad does his best but it’s tough,” Hilda said. “It’s not mom.”

“We’re just hoping next time we go to court it will be the last time,” said Nicole. “We’re tired, and we want justice for my sister.”

Lambert’s next appearance is set for Jan. 22. Neilson said he will make a decision about his application that day and proceed with sentencing if it is not submitted.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

Accused dangerous driver asks judge to reverse guilty plea .
Todd Lambert, 51, is asking a judge for permission to withdraw a guilty plea he made more than a year ago to dangerous driving causing death. Natalie Hawkins was killed in a rear-end collision in May 2016.But on Wednesday, Lambert spent a full day in court trying to convince a judge to let him withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.

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