A Quebec Court judge is expected to deliver his decision Monday in the case where a young woman is charged with being impaired while behind the wheel of a pickup truck when it crashed in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and injured hockey player Zack Kassian during his brief stint with the Montreal Canadiens.
During a three-day trial held in February, Judge Denis Mondor heard conflicting accounts of what happened before the Ford F350 Kassian had borrowed from a dealership after he joined the Canadiens crashed into a tree just before 6 a.m. on Oct. 4, 2015, at the corner of Clanranald Ave. and Côte-St-Luc Rd.
Alison De Courcy-Ireland, 24, faces two impaired driving charges.
During the trial, Kassian testified he was never behind the wheel of the vehicle during the ride between his condo and the crash site. But McGill University student Gemma Brown, another woman in the truck when the crash occurred, testified Kassian initially was behind the steering wheel as they left his home early that morning. She said he appeared to fall asleep while driving along a highway and she and De Courcy-Ireland managed to place the 210-pound athlete in the back seat before her friend decided she felt okay to drive.
It was not the only thing Brown testified to that contradicted Kassian’s testimony earlier this year. Kassian was testifying via a video linkup from a location in Edmonton on Feb. 4, part of an arrangement that allowed him to remain with his current team, the Edmonton Oilers, while it prepared for a home game the following day. His explanation of how he came into contact with the two young women provided another contradiction for Mondor to consider.
It came when defence lawyer Andrew Barbacki asked Kassian how De Courcy-Ireland and Brown ended up at his condo after a man and a woman had partied with the hockey player at his home hours before the crash. Kassian admitted he drank and used cocaine that night and invited Brown and De Courcy-Ireland over because he wanted to keep partying after the couple left. He said a teammate on the Montreal Canadiens texted him Brown and De Courcy-Ireland’s phone numbers and that he had never met them before.
“It was one of my teammates. The team I played on at the time. I wasn’t sure exactly who gave it to me. I was looking for a good time and they passed along those two numbers,” Kassian said.
Barbacki implied Kassian was following “the code” by not naming the teammate, but Kassian insisted he was unable to recall who gave him the numbers.
“Is it possible Mr. Kassian that you omitted to mention the other people in your statement to the police to protect them? To protect their identities?” Barbacki asked at one point.
“No. Not at all. False,” Kassian replied emphatically.
Brown was called as a witness immediately after Kassian. She testified she and De Courcy-Ireland had become friends a few months before the crash. She said they went to a Montreal bar, where they stayed until closing time before De Courcy-Ireland contacted Kassian in the hope they could continue partying during the early morning hours. Brown said De Courcy-Ireland already knew Kassian at that point. She also said Kassian turned down De Courcy-Ireland’s invitation to meet them somewhere and instead invited the women to his home.
When he testified, Kassian was unable to recall Brown’s name and referred to her as “the blonde” a few times. When he was asked what kind of a party he hosted, he said: “Drinking, loud music, partying — that’s the moral of the story.”
He also said he could not recall what led the trio to leave his home before 6 a.m. that day.
“I remember getting into the car. I don’t even recall where or why we left the house. I just remember getting into the vehicle. I don’t know exactly what it was for. I think it was maybe to go to another party, like an after-hours party. I’m not really sure,” he said. “I was drinking heavily and using drugs.”
Kassian also testified he never got behind the wheel of the truck on the morning in question.
“I crawled into the back seat and fell asleep. The rest I don’t recall,” he said, while adding later his next memory was of being questioned by an ambulance technician following the crash.
“I just remember (the technician) asking me if I knew where I was and I said: ‘Quebec.’ ”
Kassian suffered a broken nose and foot in the crash. The exchange he had with the technician inside the ambulance was recorded.
Barbacki used the recording to highlight how Kassian lied to the technician when he said he had only consumed “three or four drinks” and had not consumed drugs before the crash.
“I was in the drug and (alcohol) abuse program with the NHL at that point in time and I knew if they found out I was drinking or doing drugs I’d be sent back to rehab,” Kassian said.
Kassian had only been with the Canadiens for three months when the crash occurred. The former first-round draft pick was playing for the Vancouver Canucks when general manager Marc Bergevin acquired him as part of a trade for Brandon Prust, a player popular with Canadiens fans. The trade was immediately picked apart by sports reporters. The Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey questioned whether the Habs had acquired “a potential migraine” because of Kassian’s inconsistent play and rumours about his off-ice activities.
Kassian conceded he lied to the ambulance technician, but argued the falsehood shouldn’t be taken as an indication he also lied about whether he was behind the wheel of the truck before the crash.
“If you are trying to prove that I was driving, it is false, completely false,” Kassian said near the end of his testimony.
Following the crash, he returned to the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program. He never played a regular season game with the Canadiens. Instead, he was placed on waivers before the Canadiens managed to trade him to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 28, 2015, for goaltender Ben Scrivens.
Kassian has remained with the Oilers since the trade was made and restored his career. He has played an average of 77 games for Edmonton during the past three seasons and was used on the team’s top line, with Connor McDavid, late in the past season.
“Thank you for giving your testimony. It was not easy,” Mondor told Kassian when he finished testifying. It was an apparent reference to the awkwardness of having to answer difficult questions via video camera.
“I tried to do it to the best of my abilities. I’m sorry,” Kassian said in reply. “But my life has changed drastically since that day.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019