April 22nd, 2021

Murder charge laid in pedestrian collision

By Lethbridge Herald on March 3, 2021.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard Insp. Jason Walper speaks with reporters Wednesday afternoon after Lethbridge Police laid first-degree murder charges in connection with a fatal motor vehicle-pedestrian collision in June of 2020.

Dale Woodard
Lethbridge Herald
Lethbridge Police have charged a woman with first-degree murder and other charges in connection with a fatal motor vehicle and pedestrian collision in June of 2020.
On June 1, 2020, at about 4:40 p.m., members of the Lethbridge Police Service responded to a report of a motor vehicle collision involving a pedestrian in the west alley of the 900-block of 13 Street South.
Prior to police arrival, the offending vehicle — a 2005 yellow Dodge Ram — fled the scene.
The victim of the collision, 30-year-old Austin James Forsyth of Lethbridge, was transported to Chinook Regional Hospital by ambulance where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Over the course of the past several months, the LPS Criminal Investigation and the Violent Crimes Unit continued with its investigation into the cause leading up to the collision.
“This extensive follow up was completed in order to learn about the events leading up to the collision, during the collision and after the collision,” said Jason Walper, inspector with Lethbridge Police Service Criminal Investigation Division. “It is alleged the accused attended the area in order to locate Austin Forsyth. The accused observed the victim and another person walking in the alley and made the conscious decision to strike him with the motor vehicle she was operating. The other pedestrian walking with the deceased narrowly avoided being struck by the same motor vehicle she was operating.”
On Tuesday at about 6 p.m. Melissa Dumaine Whitegrass, 37, of Lethbridge, was arrested at a northside residence and has been charged with first-degree murder, dangerous driving causing death and assault with a weapon and has been remanded in custody with a court appearance scheduled for Tuesday.
“The evidence we collected at the scene and through the extensive followup, including talking to witnesses and other investigative techniques we employed throughout the last several months led our investigators to believe this was an intentional act and not an accidental collision,” said Walper, adding sometimes investigations take a long time to complete.
“For various reasons, whether or not we can locate individuals we need to interview or whether we can obtain certain types of evidence at the scene or we have to do extensive follow back. In this particular case it was a little of both. There were several witnesses we had to re-interview and to locate, some of which became quite transient for us to locate. So it took a substantial amount of time to find them and interview them. So there were many different things that led to long period of time between the actual incident and the arrest.”
Lethbridge Police can advise that Whitegrass and Forsyth were involved in a common-law relationship until 2017. Violent Crimes investigators are deeming this incident as a case of domestic violence, although there had been no previous domestic violence incidents between the two reported to LPS.
“But the actual motive for why the accused did what she did on that day is not clear at this time,” said Walper.
When asked if police suspected the incident was intentional early on, Walper said there were some triggers at the time at the time of the occurence that were not routine observations by the responding officers.
While the vehicle fled the scene, Walper said the accused remained at the scene of the collision.
“She did not flee. She was found at the scene of the collision and did indicate to the responding officers that the collision was accidental in nature. But certainly our investigation and futher followup has led us to believe that this was, in fact, not accidental and that it was an intentional act.
“The information I have is that on this particular day the accused became aware the victim would likely be in this area of the city, attended that area and then at some point made that concious decision to strike the victim with her motor vehicle. We do have evidence to support she was in that area looking for him, whether through surveillance of the area, showing her repeatedly driving through certain areas and eventually locating our victim.”
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