A man acquitted of impaired driving walked out of a Gander courtroom a free man Monday — but not before being confronted by a crowd of people who still believed he was responsible for a crash that killed two people.
Nicholas Villeneuve was acquitted Monday in provincial court of all eight charges he was facing. The decision came after the Crown attorney called no evidence in the trial against him.
Amanda Hiscock told Judge Mark Linehan that given the exclusion of several pieces of evidence, she had no reasonable chance of securing a conviction.
Villeneuve, 22, was facing eight charges: four related to dangerous driving and four related to impaired driving.
Police said Villeneuve was driving a pickup truck that collided with an SUV on the Trans-Canada Highway just west of Gander at about 4 a.m. in July 2019.
A couple from Lewisporte, John and Sandra Lush, were killed in the crash.
Their daughter, Suzanne Lush, and her boyfriend, Joshua Whiteway, were brought to hospital with serious injuries. The accident left Whiteway paralyzed from the waist down.
Judge excluded key evidence against accused
Monday's verdict comes a little less than a month after Judge Mark Linehan ruled that some physical evidence, as well as some notes made by police on the night of a crash, could not be used by the Crown in making its case at trial.
The reasons for that exclusion, and the specifics about the evidence, were initially covered by an automatic publication ban.
However, it meant Linehan was satisfied that Villeneuve's Charter rights were violated, and that inclusion of the evidence would "bring the administration of justice into disrepute."
On Monday, Hiscock conceded to another application from Rosellen Sullivan, Villeneuve's lawyer. As a result, further evidence taken from the scene of the crash was thrown out.
Moments after that set of evidence was excluded, Linehan dismissed all charges against Villeneuve.
As he left the Gander courthouse, Villeneuve was confronted by friends and family of the Lush family. A crowd had assembled outside as the hearing took place, holding signs with a photograph of John and Sandra Lush, as well as a picture of Suzanne Lush and Whiteway.
"Take a look at this, take a look!" one man yelled, as Villeneuve left the building.
Villeneuve said nothing, and did not appear to look at the men or their sign as he got into a truck.
'What about our rights?'
Whiteway himself was present in the courtroom to hear the judge's decision, and spoke with friends and family outside.
He later released a statement on Facebook, where he described the extent of his injuries and the rehabilitation he had to go through after the collision.
He wrote that the crash broke his shoulder, collarbone and several ribs, and left him with burns on his legs, a severed bowel, and a break in his spine.
He also described Suzanne Lush's extensive injuries, and her grief and sadness from losing both of her parents and the trauma of being present at the time of their death.
"I struggled daily with the pain and uncertainty of where and what am I supposed to do with my life now that I am paralyzed," he said.
"I developed serious dependency on Dilaudid … and struggled insanely to wean myself off. To this day, and probably forever more, I deal with that excruciating nerve pain, and all the physical and mental aspects of living a life sitting in a chair."
Whiteway said Villeneuve's acquittal, which he attributed to the various charter breaches, was "a joke."
"What about our rights? The right to exist without someone killing you? Or running into you and leaving you near dead on the side of the road? Who is protecting the public here?" he asked.
"At what point does common sense and real life kick in? How do we shake the system so that this never happens again?"