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'The tire was fine,' Man charged in fatal dump truck crash near Alliston takes the stand in his defence

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The Toronto man charged with criminal negligence causing death following a dump truck crash near Alliston three years ago took the stand Tuesday inside a Barrie courtroom.

Milton Urgiles, the 46-year-old man who described himself as the broker between trucking companies and drivers, gave his account of the events leading up to the crash that killed 53-year-old dump truck driver Denis Garant on September 22, 2020.

Before his testimony, however, Urgiles asked for the opportunity to offer his condolences to the family of Denis Garant, including his widow and son.

"I feel very deeply the loss of this gentleman," Urgiles testified.

Garant was driving the dump truck owned by the company Urgiles worked for, EcuaCan Excavating. The truck, investigators determined, ultimately left the roadway and crashed into a ditch before hitting a tree along the Ajala-Tecumseth Townline.

Urgiles testified the company is owned by his partner Janeth Zambrano, whom he said he's had a strained relationship with due to the case against him. Zambrano had been called to testify against her partner.

She did not bench a warrant for her arrest if she did not appear in court to testify, which was issued by Justice Mary Vallee last month.

During the first two weeks of trial in September, the court heard Garant had texted Urgiles the evening before the deadly crash to inform him of an issue with the truck's steering that needed to be checked. Tuesday, as part of examination-in-chief by his defence lawyer Alonzo Abbey, Urgiles testified he checked the 2006 Freightliner between 8 and 11:30 p.m.

A dump truck crashed into a tree on Adjala-Tecumseth Townline near Alliston, Ont., on Sept. 22, 2020.

"He mentioned there was a problem with the steering, so I went and checked the truck," said Urgiles.

"I checked it. The tire was fine. Everything was fine with it. And I also checked the back tires in case he hit them."

Urgiles was asked what specific examination he performed.

"I checked the tires, the motor…everything was okay."

He testified he completed a circle check of the truck and then sought to troubleshoot common issues he encountered as a truck driver for many years.

Urgiles testified had he been able to find an issue with the truck, including a defect, he had an obligation to report it to his boss.

"I would have reported it to Janeth. She would've taken the keys out of the truck, and it would've been taken out of service until it was repaired," said Urgiles.

"I told her when I was checking it and when I got home that I hadn't found anything in the truck wrong, and it was all okay."

Urgiles said it was too late in the evening on September 21, 2020, to call Garant to tell him the truck was operational and no issues were discovered.

Urgiles told the court he called Garant at 5:20 a.m. the following day before Garant started work on a job site in the Highway 27 and Finch Avenue area. He had texted Garant that information following Garant's text message about the steering concerns.

Urgiles then recalled what he said to Garant that morning.

"I told him that I checked the truck, the suspension in the front drivetrain and in the rear," he said he advised Garant to come forward if further concerns arose.

"I told him that everything was okay and that he should check it himself and if there was anything wrong with the truck, he should report it immediately."

Phone records entered as evidence showed they spoke several times that morning, including a call for about four minutes around nine that morning.

Two hours later, the dump truck crashed near Alliston, and Garant was dead. Urgiles was charged by police eight months after the crash when investigators ruled the truck crashed due to a mechanical defect.

Urgiles testified both front tires had been replaced about two weeks prior to the crash when the front left tire had blown out on the same truck. Urgiles said he had both tires replaced on September 9 because the front right tire appeared ready to "explode" as well.

"That's what all of us dump truck drivers are afraid of, that a front tire could blow," Urgiles testified.

"I told him to be careful about this front tire."

The Crown will continue its cross-examination of Urgiles in mid-November. 

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