A man accused of drunk driving in a fatal 2017 accident near Clarenville says he drank six beers the day of the crash and was involved in a physical confrontation with his passenger moments before his car struck the passenger side of a transport truck near the Trans-Canada-Highway.
Travis Firmage, accused of drunk driving causing death in an incident that killed his passenger, 25-year-old Calvin Tobin, took the stand in Clarenville provincial court this week.
Firmage testified that he drank the six beers over the course of eight or nine hours, including one Bud Light he drank within 15 minutes of the accident, when he was driving from Port Blandford towards Goobies to pick up his then girlfriend. Tobin, who is related to Firmage's former girlfriend, was in the car.
Under cross-examination, Firmage acknowledged that there were blank spots in his memory of that night, but suggested that was due to physical trauma caused by a fight between him and Tobin in the moments before the collision.
He testified that Tobin struck him in the right side of the face and grabbed the wheel of the car immediately before the accident. Tensions between the two men had been growing, Firmage said, because of Tobin's continued insistence that Firmage pull into Clarenville so he could acquire cocaine.
"I don't know if he gave me a good shot because I don't know, I just remember seeing the lights and trying to pull the wheel, and seeing him there like that, and I remember waking up the hospital, naked, on this bed, covered in glass and blood."
Firmage was driving a Hyundai Sonata — which he had bought just that day — when he collided with a transport truck just outside of Clarenville at around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2017. He and Tobin were brought to hospital, and Tobin was pronounced dead the next morning.
Police say Firmage was driving drunk at the time of the crash.
According to testimony heard by the court from Firmage and his then girlfriend, Nicole Brewer, Firmage and Tobin had spent most of the day together: first at a planned birthday party for a relative, and then driving to and from St. John's, where Firmage bought an uninsured Hyundai for $700.
Driving back to Lethbridge, Brewer had a flat tire, and stopped in Goobies just before 10 p.m. She called her mom, who called Travis and Tobin to tell them to turn around and pick up her daughter.
CarolAnn Brewer, Nicole's mother, spoke with the pair three times over the phone. She testified last year that the voice of both men became more and more incoherent over the series of calls. In his testimony this week, Firmage said that was because he put the phone in the car's cupholder, as neither he nor Tobin wanted to speak to her.
It was following those phone calls that Firmage opened and drank his sixth beer, he said, describing it as poor judgment.
He testified that the fighting between himself and Tobin escalated to its peak following those calls.
There had also been irritation earlier in the day, when they passed Clarenville the first time. Firmage testified that Tobin was continuously demanding to be brought to Clarenville to get cocaine. Firmage said he didn't want to do that, as he had struggled with drug dependency and legal troubles.
While the two men were in the car, Tobin would allegedly throw beer caps at him and pick at him, Firmage said, adding that the behaviour paused for periods of time, but resumed in the minutes before the accident.
Firmage said after Tobin struck him the first time, he pulled over on the highway and threatened to kick Tobin out of the car unless he stopped. The pair continued driving, and then the fighting started again immediately before the accident.
"As we got close to Clarenville, he asked again, I said no, and then he hit me, so I tried hitting him back," he testified.
"First he slapped me in the face, and then he punched me a couple of times, and so I was trying to hold him off like that onto the side."
Firmage said he then saw bright lights coming from the opposite side of the road, and tried to veer left out of the way. He said that's the last thing he remembers before waking up in the hospital.
According to earlier testimony by police and witnesses, the two vehicles collided on their passenger sides. Under cross-examination, Firmage insisted he tried to veer left, toward the driver's side of the road.
He acknowledged that his car entered the opposing lane of traffic, blaming it on Tobin grabbing the wheel of the car.
He said he had no memory of hitting the brakes prior to the accident. He testified that the speed at the time of the collision was likely 118 km/h, which was stuck on the speedometer.
"I don't recall hitting the brakes, I don't know why. I didn't know maybe if I thought I could have controlled the situation in the car, I don't know," he said.
"I can't recall why I wouldn't just bring it to a stop."
He told Crown attorney Alison Manning under cross-examination that he should have put Tobin out on the side of the road, and acknowledged that he had the power to stop the car with the brakes before the accident.
Victim under microscope
Large parts of this week's testimony also centred around Tobin: his alleged drinking and drug use, and his alleged suicidal thoughts.
Both Firmage and Nicole Brewer testified they had conversations with Tobin in which he mused he'd rather be dead than alive.
In earlier testimony, CarolAnn Brewer, who helped raise Tobin, said he was absolutely not suicidal.
Firmage testified this week that those conversations were one of the reasons he brought Tobin with him and his girlfriend into St. John's. He said he didn't want to leave him alone in a place where he was unhappy.
A blood test following the accident, when Firmage was admitted to hospital, showed that his blood alcohol concentration was 0.176, twice the legal limit.
Firmage's lawyer, Derek Hogan, called an expert witness this week that cast doubt on the validity of that reading.
Suzanne Perry said the blood that was tested was stored in the wrong type of tube, a lavender-coloured tube that didn't contain the right kind of additives that would have slowed the deterioration of the sample for alcohol analysis purposes.
She also said it was tested 81 days after it was taken. She compared that to leaving milk on a counter for 81 days.
Her testimony continued Friday. She was expected to be the final defence witness for the trial, which started in 2019, but has not sat continuously.