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3 years in prison for driver of snowmobile in fatal crash

·3 min read
Thomas Whittle of Conception Bay South was convicted in January of all three charges he faced connected to a fatal snowmobile crash. (Lindsay Bird/CBC - image credit)
Thomas Whittle of Conception Bay South was convicted in January of all three charges he faced connected to a fatal snowmobile crash. (Lindsay Bird/CBC - image credit)

The man who drove a snowmobile drunk four years ago now has a federal prison sentence for his role in the western Newfoundland collision that killed his passenger, with the judge saying a message needs to be sent that impaired driving is "completely unacceptable in our society."

Justice George Murphy delivered his sentence Monday afternoon in Corner Brook Supreme Court, concluding the case involving Thomas Whittle and giving him three years behind bars with a four-year driving ban to follow upon his release.

In January, Whittle was convicted of three charges related to the crash, including impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death.

The charges stemmed from what Murphy called "a fateful decision" by Whittle and passenger Justyn Pollard to hop aboard a snowmobile in the early hours of Feb 19, 2017. That morning, their snowmobile collided with a taxi van on the bridge to Humber Valley Resort. Pollard, 21, died from his injuries.

While Whittle pleaded not guilty to the charges he faced, Murphy said he should not be punished for that decision. Murphy also noted that Whittle had a positive upbringing, a supportive family, and no prior criminal record.

But Murphy said he shared concerns the Crown had raised at trial, and prior to the sentencing, that Whittle had shown a lack of insight into his actions and their impact on Pollard and Pollard's family.

"I'm not convinced he fully accepts responsibility for his actions that day," Murphy told the court, citing times Whittle had complained about the impact of court-imposed conditions on him that forced him to miss events such as weddings.

Justyn Pollard, 21, was killed when the snowmobile he was on collided with a taxi on the bridge to the Humber Valley Resort.
Justyn Pollard, 21, was killed when the snowmobile he was on collided with a taxi on the bridge to the Humber Valley Resort.(Submitted by Sherry Pollard)

Murphy said such impacts paled in comparison with that of Pollard's family and friends. Pollard's mother and best friend watched the sentencing via video link, while his aunt and uncle listened over the phone. All of them delivered emotional victim impact statements on Thursday detailing their grief.

"There is no doubt that they have all suffered an immeasurable loss," said Murphy.

Murphy sided with the Crown's recommendations for the three-year sentence and four-year driving ban, but declined to grant the Crown's request for a DNA order to put a sample from Whittle into a national database, saying Whittle didn't show any "criminal propensity" to repeat his behaviour.

Whittle, who represented himself, had asked for an intermittent sentence to be able to continue working in the community, an arrangement Murphy said was unavailable for any sentence longer than 90 days.

Two of Whittle's three convictions were each given the three-year prison sentence, which will be served concurrently. Murphy stayed one other conviction, of driving with a blood-alcohol content above 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, resulting in an accident causing death.

Sending a message

In handing down his sentence, Murphy ruminated on the continued instances of impaired driving in Newfoundland and Labrador and across Canada, saying that society's way of dealing with it doesn't appear to be working.

"It is a complex problem with no easy solution," Murphy said.

He hoped his sentence would work toward accomplishing two goals — demonstrating to society that impaired driving is "completely unacceptable," and sending a message to anyone thinking of drinking and driving.

While Murphy called Whittle's actions that night "reckless and extremely risky behaviour," Murphy also said he highly doubted Whittle would ever drink and drive again, and that the sentence was meant more as a general deterrence to society.

Whittle was quiet throughout the proceedings, offering only "no comment" when given the chance to weigh in on the proceedings.

He has been in custody since Thursday, time that Murphy credited toward Whittle's sentence at time-and-a-half, shaving eight days off Whittle's total to be served.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador