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Woman pleads guilty to 23 charges from Prairie crime spree

Laura Lee Dawn Palmer, 34, pleaded guilty in Brandon provincial court on Tuesday to a string of charges that culminated in this dramatic police takedown after a high-speed chase through Brandon on Jan. 2.

TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Laura Lee Dawn Palmer, 34, pleaded guilty in Brandon provincial court on Tuesday to a string of charges that culminated in this dramatic police takedown after a high-speed chase through Brandon on Jan. 2.

Mired in a world of drugs and prostitution, she refused to stay away from her boyfriend — even when the couple was threatened by a man who made claim to her as her pimp.

So they ran.

What followed was a crack cocaine-fuelled, cross-country crime spree that ended with a pair of high-speed police chases, one of which ended with a crash at the edge of Brandon city limits.

"Both the police pursuits that I spoke of were very serious and dangerous," Crown attorney Grant Hughes said in Brandon court on Tuesday. "Thankfully, no one was injured despite three intentional accidents that were involved."

Laura Lee Dawn Palmer, 34, pleaded guilty in Brandon provincial court on Tuesday to 23 charges from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

They include the motor vehicle flight from police charge for a car chase through Brandon on Jan. 2 that ultimately led to her arrest.

Police have told their side of the story when it comes to the chase. So has Palmer’s co-accused, Anthony Paul Blais.

In court on Tuesday, it was Palmer’s turn, and new details of the chase — and events that led up to it — were described by her lawyer, Ryan Fawcett, and Hughes.

Hughes said Palmer was in trouble long before the chase.

Beginning in April 2012, she was caught trying to pawn $7,000 worth of light and sound equipment swiped from a Lethbridge, Alta., garage. She later failed to attend court on that charge.

From there, she tried to steal a minivan in Nanaimo, B.C., and was involved in the theft of iPads, a laptop, and more than $10,000 worth of iPhones from stores in Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

She’d been repeatedly arrested and released for the above crimes and was still pending on them when she got involved in the "final push," as Hughes put it, that led to the car chase.

Her co-accused in the above offences and the ensuing chase is Blais, but the allegations against him haven’t been proven in court as he still faces charges.

Fawcett said it was Palmer’s involvement in the Calgary sex trade, her drug addiction and her relationship with Blais that sparked the crime spree.

"For some reason, she could not tear herself away from either Mr. Blais or the drugs," Fawcett said.

Fawcett said Palmer was working as an escort in Calgary and had a severe crack cocaine addiction.

In late December, her boyfriend, Blais, pulled a knife on a "nefarious" and violent man who told Palmer she was to work as a prostitute exclusively for him and keep away from Blais.

But the couple wouldn’t stay apart and, facing threats from the pimp and fearing for their safety, they fled.

A pickup truck was stolen from Kathryn, Alta., northeast of Calgary, and during Jan. 1-2 vehicles were stolen and then ditched as the couple headed east through Saskatchewan — to Morse, Moose Jaw, Wapella, Moosomin — and into Manitoba.

On the morning of Jan. 2, an SUV stolen from Moose Jaw was unsuccessfully rammed into a Sintaluta, Sask., store in a bid to break in to get money. The SUV was later found near Wapella with fire damage inside.

Later that morning, Virden RCMP police spotted a pickup truck stolen from Elkhorn and chased it through Virden before it returned to the Trans-Canada and reached 170 km/h.

Mounties called off this first chase when the pickup truck slowed and rammed two citizen vehicles in an apparent effort to lose them. There were no injuries.

A second chase involving Brandon police began when an officer followed as the car turned onto Highway 1A at Kemnay. When the officer switched on lights and sirens, the suspect car sped up from 60 km/h to 160 km/h as it headed east and then entered Brandon. Palmer was behind the wheel at that point.

The rest of Hughes’ courtroom account largely confirms the story Blais previously told the Brandon Sun during a phone call from jail.

As the car continued east along Victoria Avenue, it avoided a stop stick designed to deflate its tires, ran five red lights at 40 km/h to 60 km/h, and reached 100 km/h between intersections where the speed limit is 50 km/h.

Police noted that several vehicles swerved, and at least one pedestrian jumped, to get out of the way of the oncoming suspect car.

At 17th Avenue East, where the speed limit on Victoria Avenue East goes up to 60 km/h, the car accelerated to 120 km/h. At that speed, Palmer jumped into the back seat as Blais slid into the driver’s seat to take the wheel.

The car then turned north onto Highway 110, sped up, and wandered into the oncoming lane before it rammed another vehicle headed in the same direction.

The suspect car hit the ditch and Palmer and Blais were arrested in a "high-risk takedown" by police. They’ve been in custody since then.

Hughes said the couple was using crack cocaine throughout their crime-filled trip through Western Canada.

They planned to escape their previous charges by fleeing for southern Ontario, then intended to move on to Quebec where they’d seek drug treatment and start over.

Now, however, the relationship between Blais and Palmer appears to be over. Hughes said Blais is charged with assaulting Palmer during their cross-country flight.

"While Ms. Palmer cares about Mr. Blais … she has realized in the last several months that it is not in her interest to have any further contact with him whatsoever," Fawcett added.

Hughes asked Judge John Combs to send Palmer to prison for four years, while Fawcett suggested two years atop time served was enough for a woman who was exploited and abused — it’s Palmer’s claim that she was urged on during the chase by Blais.

"I really am sorry," Palmer told court, wiping tears from her eyes.

Combs, however, delayed the delivery of sentence until later this month.

» ihitchen@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @IanHitchen

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 11, 2014

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Mired in a world of drugs and prostitution, she refused to stay away from her boyfriend — even when the couple was threatened by a man who made claim to her as her pimp.

So they ran.

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Mired in a world of drugs and prostitution, she refused to stay away from her boyfriend — even when the couple was threatened by a man who made claim to her as her pimp.

So they ran.

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