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Nutimik Lake Hit & Run – Free Press Story

Posted on: August 15, 2017  |  

https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/beausejour-440404923.html

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

BEAUSEJOUR — Jessica Muench was abandoned in the water by a hit-and-run boater who left her suffering horrific, life-altering injuries. Now the family of the 25-year-old Winnipeg woman believe she’s been abandoned by both witnesses to her tragedy and the justice system as a result of a controversial deal struck with the man who nearly killed her.

Dillon Snowden, 24, pleaded guilty on Monday to leaving the scene and failing to report an accident causing bodily harm. In exchange, the Crown dropped more serious charges of impaired driving causing bodily harm and dangerous operation of a vessel causing bodily harm.

Snowden remains free on bail and is expected to be sentenced on Sept. 12 in Beausejour. The Crown will be asking for up to three months in jail, while he will be seeking a non-custodial penalty that keeps him free in the community.

Jessica Muench
SUPPLIED

Jessica Muench

The basic facts of the case were never in dispute: Muench had gone camping for the weekend with a group of friends last summer. They hit the water at Nutimik Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park on the afternoon of July 16, where they took turns pulling each other in a tube behind a boat.

One moment, Muench was having the time of her life. The next, she was fighting for her life. Muench had just got out of the tube when another boat that had been following closely turned sharply and drove right over her, slashing both her legs with the propeller. The result was catastrophic to her left leg, tearing flesh and muscle away from her mangled limb and leaving her bleeding heavily and in dire straits.

“She tried to get out of the way. She went under the water to try to avoid it and started kicking away to try and get away, to swim,” her father, Gerald Muench, told the Free Press Monday outside court after watching the man responsible admit to the most minor of the three charges he was facing.

The driver of the boat then took off as Muench was comforted by her friends and taken to shore. Paramedics quickly realized the severity of the situation, and the STARS air ambulance was brought in to rush Muench to Winnipeg where she underwent the first of seven different surgeries to save her life — and ultimately her limb when amputation was a very real possibility. Muscle from her back and skin from her buttocks were used to try and offset the damage.

“The propeller just flipped the skin off and took out everything underneath,” said her father. Patricia Muench added her daughter likely would have been killed instantly had it been her neck or head caught in the propeller’s path instead of her legs.

RCMP issued a public plea for help in finding the boater responsible, saying the man had been drinking.

Snowden turned himself in the next day. By then, it was far too late to do testing to determine his state of sobriety at the time. And the investigation would take a major hit when several of Snowden’s friends who were with him in the boat apparently gave conflicting statements about whether he was even driving, the manner of driving and how much alcohol had been consumed prior to hitting the water.

In an unusual move, two of the friends were charged with obstruction of justice as police suspected they were deliberating trying to sabotage the case. However, those charges have since been dropped by the Crown without explanation to the court or the victim’s family.

© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap
© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap

It appears the damage was already done. Because the Crown has now told Muench’s family they don’t believe they have sufficient evidence to prove the impaired driving and dangerous driving charges — which would likely carry substantial prison time if convicted — based on the muddied nature of the witness statements that a justice source described as being “all over the place.”

“In the beginning, there were some bad decisions made. And that set the course for the rest of the year,” said Gerald Muench. “We’re talking about the people who basically curb-stomped Jessica.”

Snowden’s lawyer, Danny Gunn, told the Free Press on Monday his client was as surprised as anyone when friends were evasive with police about the fact he’d been driving and can’t speak to why they did that. Gunn said Snowden only left the scene that day because he believed Muench was already getting the medical help she needed and there was nothing more for him to do at the time.

The Crown declined to comment on the case at this time, citing its ongoing nature. No facts were read into the public record on Monday, as that won’t occur until the sentencing date.

“I appreciate the public campaign around boating safety, but it has to be backed up.”– Shannon Lee, Jessica Muench’s sister

That’s not sitting well with the family, who believe the Crown should have fought harder to prove all of the charges that were laid. They say Jessica was prepared to testify about what she knew and saw — including the drinking history of Snowden and how he was driving the boat just prior to hitting her. Muench and her friends had been socializing with Snowden and his friends before they went boating, and the family says her statements to police helped form the basis for all of the original charges.

“She saw everything that happened. She knows,” said her sister, Shannon Lee. “There have been times where she looks at her leg, looks at how her life has changed and cannot believe there wasn’t more cooperation around the people who experienced with her that day. There are times where she just wants it to all go away, because she wears her heart on her sleeve and she just wants it all to be over. She’s been on a roller-coaster.”

“Jessica told the truth and accounted for everything that happened that day. They had what happened. They had the facts. Where it went from there, well we know where it went from there,” added her father.

They also are puzzled by the fact Snowden was actually released without charge when he initially turned himself in. The charges didn’t get laid until days later.

“There were no consequences immediately. He was able to walk away with his boat and his boat keys,” said Lee. “I appreciate the public campaign around boating safety, but it has to be backed up, I feel, with more stringent marine laws.”

Muench had just finished up her second year at the University of Winnipeg and was working as a waitress to help pay for her schooling. She had to give up that work, unable to spend long periods of time on her feet. She’s now working as a receptionist in an office and will return to the U of W this fall after an unexpected one-year hiatus.

If there’s a silver lining to the tragedy it’s the fact Muench is now interested in biology, is volunteering at CancerCare Manitoba and wants to pursue a career helping others — like the many doctors and nurses who have assisted her.

But she continues to deal with the physical and emotional fallout from what occurred. At least one more surgery is scheduled, and her left leg will never be the same again. There is extensive, permanent scarring.

“That muscle in there is never going to replace her calf muscle. All it does is bring blood there. It will never grow, like a calf muscle. It doesn’t fire,” said her father.

The guilty plea and upcoming sentencing likely won’t be the end of this matter, however. The family has already contacted a lawyer and are looking into a possible civil lawsuit against Snowden and others — where they could be subpoenaed and forced to answer key questions that would have been posed had this proceeded to a trial.

And it won’t be about money, but about getting to the truth and hopefully affecting behaviours by those participating in watersports and by justice officials in enforcing the laws of the land.

“I wish it wasn’t my daughter that this happened to. But if it changes the course of what we’re going to do on the waterways, fantastic. If this gets swept under the rug and nobody does anything… if something doesn’t change, I just don’t know,” said Gerald Muench.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

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Daily Parks update for Friday May 20,2022 (Note from WCA - long report with lots of new items suggest you read in full)Hello WCA, Here are the highlights of today’s information: - We have projections for the Winnipeg River for the next 10-15 days and an estimated crest of early June. - Crescent Beach seawall at West Hawk is barricaded and closed. Please pay attention to signage and do not cross barricades or flagging tape. The travel lane has been moved away from the wall and is narrow in spots, please travel slowly and pay attention to onsite signage. Cottages in the Crescent Beach, High Rock, McKenzie Beach, and Hunt Lake subdivisions should be aware of the potential for a re-route in this area in the event that damage to the boardwalk and seawall continues. - PR307 near the Rennie River/ Heart Lake Boat Launch is now closed to all traffic. Wind and wave action have cause the water in this area to continue rising today. The roadway underneath the water is rough in spots. Manitoba Parks is not advising travel to cottages and trails in the Betula Lake area. - Work was done today on the 8 Foot Falls Black Road today to raise the level of the road and help to maintain access.- Two more boat launches are closed: 8 Foot Falls and West Hawk. - Creekside loop of Old Nutimik Seasonal campground is now closed and campers have been asked to remove their units. Whiteshell Provincial Park: May 20, 2022Water continue to along the lakes that make up the Winnipeg River system. Nutimik, Dorothy, Margaret, Eleanor, and Sylvia Lakes as well as the river near the Pointe du Bois subdivision continue to rise as water moves from Lake of the Woods through the Winnipeg River system. Water levels rise quickly in these areas due to natural restrictions of water along the river. Manitoba Hydro has provided an estimate today (May 20) that we can expect the following increases above current level of the Winnipeg River over the next 10-15 days: 8 Foot Falls - 1.2 Feet, Nutimik Lake - 2.1 Feet, Dorothy Lake – 1.9 Feet, 2.2 – Margaret/ Eleanor Lake, and 2.3 Feet – Sylvia Lake. The Winnipeg River is expected to crest in early June. Water levels remain high throughout Whiteshell Provincial Park. Caddy, Falcon, West Hawk, Star, and Brereton are reporting a slight decrease in levels today compared to yesterday. Jessica, White, and Betula Lakes all reported a small increase today from yesterday. Crescent Beach seawall at West Hawk is barricaded and closed. Please pay attention to signage and do not cross barricades or flagging tape. The travel lane has been moved away from the wall and is narrow in spots, please travel slowly and pay attention to onsite signage. Cottages in the Crescent Beach, High Rock, McKenzie Beach, and Hunt Lake subdivisions should be aware of the potential for a re-route in this area in the event that damage to the boardwalk and seawall continues. Manitoba Parks staff are working in conjunction with staff from the department of Manitoba, Transportation and Infrastructure to monitor lake levels and adjust control structures where possible. A large sandbagging machine is in operation making prefilled sandbags for distribution at the Otter Falls Ball Diamond. Please be careful when attending this location, expect a staff person to be directing traffic, and that you may have to wait for large equipment to clear. Sandbag production will be ongoing from 9am to 7pm daily weather permitting. Pre-filled sandbags are being moved to sand and sandbag filling stations below as supply allows. In the past three days we have made approximately 30,000 sandbags for distribution. Sandbags for filling and sand are available for cottage owners at: the 8 Foot Falls Road in Pointe du Bois, the Otter Falls Ball Diamond, across from Nutimik Maintenance Yard, the Betula Ball Diamond, Jessica Lake at the garbage collection site, the parking lot across from Brereton Lake Resort, the West Hawk maintenance yard, and the causeway at Falcon Lake. There is also a limited amount of pre-filled sandbags available at the 8-Foot Falls location. PR307 near the Rennie River/ Heart Lake Boat Launch is now closed to all traffic. Wind and wave action have cause the water in this area to continue rising today. The roadway underneath the water is rough in spots. Manitoba Parks is not advising travel to cottages and trails in the Betula Lake area. PR 307 between Betula Lake and White Lake, and PR 312 near Caddy Lake is closed. Water is present on the highway at: PTH 44 near McGillvray Falls, PR 309 near Meditation Lake, PR 307 near Jessica Lake and PR 313 to Pointe du Bois. PR309 is very rough from the junction of PR 307 to Big Whiteshell, please use caution when travelling in this area. We encourage everyone to check manitoba511.ca before travelling (you can also call 511 anywhere in Manitoba to get updates by phone). Water is present on several block roads throughout the park. The following block roads should not be crossed in a smaller vehicle until the water recedes: High Rock Road at West Hawk (12” deep), Jessica Lake Block 5-6-7-8 (19” deep), White Lake Block 4 (16” deep), and Otter Falls Block 4 (6-14” deep). Several other block roads in the Otter Falls area and throughout the park have water on the roadways. Caution should be used when travelling through flooded areas. Work was done today on the 8 Foot Falls Black Road today to raise the level of the road and help to maintain access. The following boat launches are closed: 8 Foot Falls, West Hawk, Big Creek, Otter Falls, White Lake, Jessica Lake, Rennie River/ Heart Lake, Nutimik Lake Block 1, Nutimik Campground, Opapiskaw, South Shore Big Whiteshell, Toniata, Brereton Lake North Shore (Inverness Falls), and Falcon Beach Campground. All boat traffic should be cautious of debris and items submerged below the surface. Manitoba Park staff continue to actively monitor the floating bog at Caddy Lake, and address the bog as required on a proactive basis. The bog is not impacting the outflow of Caddy Lake. To minimize potential erosion caused by boat wakes, recreational motor boat restrictions are in place. Recreational motor boat traffic is prohibited from operating within 100 metres of the shoreline on: West Hawk, Falcon, Caddy, Star, Brereton, Jessica, White, Big Whiteshell, Betula, Nutimik, Dorothy, Margaret and Eleanor Lakes in Whiteshell Provincial Park. When exiting or approaching the shoreline, boats should move directly out from land and avoid creating a wake. The following hiking trails are closed: Pine Point Rapids, Forester’s Footsteps, Bannock Point, Alfred Hole, the Marsh Trail (between Falcon Lake Marina and Beach Campground), TransCanada Trail at Penniac Bay, and Hunt Lake. The Mantario Hiking Trail, Mantario Canoe Route and Caddy Lake Tunnels are closed. Extreme caution should be used with travelling the upstream portion of the Winnipeg River (Pointe du Bois to Lamprey Falls). Backcountry Campsites above Lamprey Falls are closed due to flooding. Campers should check the Manitoba Parks homepage for the status of campgrounds prior to coming to the park. Several campgrounds have full or partial closures. Otter Falls, Betula, and White Lake Campgrounds are closed. Individual site closures are in place at Nutimik Lake and Opapiskaw Campgrounds. Creekside loop of Old Nutimik Seasonal campground is now closed and campers have been asked to remove their units. If cottagers have any questions, concerns or urgent matters regarding the high water please contact Manitoba Parks at 204-340-6769 between 8am and 6pm daily. To report an emergency please contact the RCMP via 911 if located in the South Whiteshell, 204-348-7177 in the North Whiteshell, and 204-345-8685 in Pointe du Bois. Inquires regarding camping or normal operations should can be directed to the regular inquiry line at 1-800-214-6497. ... See MoreSee Less
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Lake levels report for Friday May 20th SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THOSE ON WINNIPEG RIVER - includes Forecast from Manitoba Hydro• No readings for Brereton• Only sporadic readings for Betula & Big Whiteshell• Rest as of May 19thSome reports this morning from cottagers that some lakes (Jessica, White area) starting to rise a bit again after stabilizing a bit ... See MoreSee Less
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Cindy Reynolds – “Crescent Beach - West Hawk Lake. The wall is starting to lean towards the lake and creating a gap between the wall and sidewalk. Wind, rain/snow and waves aren’t helping!” ... See MoreSee Less
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