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‘Aggressive’ driving led to fatal hit-run of farmworker

Former hockey star Patrick McCabe jailed two years in 2019 death of woman on Concession 7

The driver who killed a Niagara farmworker in a hit-and-run last summer was tailgating, “driving aggressively” and passed a vehicle seconds before his pickup truck slammed into the woman who was walking along the dark, rural NOTL road.

Evidence and documents filed in court show Patrick McCabe, now 22, never stopped, leaving the victim, a farmworker named Zenaida from Mexico, on the side of the road suffering fatal injuries.

Zenaida, 33, worked at Tregunno Fruit Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake and is survived by two young children and her parents in Mexico. Like many seasonal workers, she was in Canada to earn money to support her family back home.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell sentenced McCabe to two years in penitentiary on July 23 after he pleaded guilty to failing to remain at the scene.

A charge of dangerous driving causing death was withdrawn. He also is banned from driving for five years and will be on probation for two years once his prison term ends.

McCabe, from Pelham, was driving along Concession 7 Road just before 11 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. He had just left a party at a friend’s home in Niagara-on-the-Lake when the incident occurred, according to an agreed statement of facts filed with the Ontario Court of Justice in St. Catharines.

McCabe, a former player with the Niagara Falls Jr. Canucks, told police he left the party, at a home near the Virgil firehall, to get food at the Pizza Pizza at the Gateway Plaza on York Road.

Zenaida, 33, who is identified only by her first name at her family’s request, was walking at the side of Concession 7 Road southbound near Line 6 Road around 10:50 p.m. She was returning from a church social event and was to meet up with a friend.

Two drivers said McCabe’s Dodge Ram pickup truck was between their vehicles when it “aggressively” darted out to pass the lead car.

After completing the pass, McCabe suddenly veered left and the witnesses said they could see he had hit someone. The truck never slowed down. The lead car pursued McCabe but was unable to catch up, so the driver returned to the scene.

As the truck had sped off, the occupants of the other car stopped to try to help Zenaida. She was eventually taken to the intensive care unit of Hamilton Health Sciences but died two days later.

Although investigators could not definitively determine whether Zenaida was on the pavement or on the shoulder of the road, the “physical evidence” points to her being along the edge, the statement of facts said.

In the days immediately after the collision, McCabe made no attempts to contact police, though he later told officers he knew he had hit something. He eventually admitted he knew he had struck a person, but panicked and didn’t know what to do.

After the collision he finally stopped at the rear of the Petro-Canada station on York Road. His passenger-side mirror was broken and “dangling,” so he ripped it off and placed it in his truck. Surveillance video at the gas station captured the scene.

He then drove back to the party, this time taking Airport Road to avoid the crash scene, but said he told no one about the collision. He returned home about 3 a.m., texting his girlfriend that he arrived safely.

On Aug. 20, three days after the collision, police issued a media statement identifying the make and model of the vehicle they were looking for – a dark-coloured Dodge Ram with damage to the passenger side. That resulted in numerous tips, including one that identified McCabe as owning such a vehicle.

The next day, McCabe contacted police.

When investigators examined McCabe’s truck “it was obvious McCabe went to great lengths to try and conceal the damage to the Ram’s right passenger-side mirror by using duct tape, replacement mirrors and black spray paint.”

McCabe was working as a landscaper for Modern Turf Care in St. Catharines at the time of the collision.

Character reference letters submitted to the court said he was remorseful and “wanting to better himself.”

Four letters were submitted by counsellors and staff from the Vitanova Foundation, a Woodbridge-based rehab centre that is “focused on addiction recovery.”

McCabe was treated for “substance abuse, trauma and related issues,” and made “significant progress,” the letters said.

In another letter, Frank Pietrangelo, owner of the Niagara Falls Jr. Canucks hockey team, wrote that McCabe was a team captain and leader on and off the ice. He coached McCabe from 2015 to 2019 and said he was one of the best players in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Bill Verhoef, owner of Modern Turf Care, wrote that McCabe was a hard-working employee and would have a job waiting for him after he is released from prison.

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