Crown will appeal acquittal of alleged drunk driver

·3 min read
Crown will appeal acquittal of alleged drunk driver
Nicholas Villeneuve leaves a courtroom in Gander's provincial court after being acquitted earlier this month.
Nicholas Villeneuve leaves a courtroom in Gander's provincial court after being acquitted earlier this month.

(Garrett Barry/CBC)

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

Crown attorneys will appeal the court decisions that led to the acquittal of an accused drunk driver in central Newfoundland.

Lloyd Strickland, Newfoundland and Labrador's director of public prosecutions, said in a media release Wednesday that Crown lawyers had "identified legal errors" in pre-trial decisions that constrained the prosecution's case against Nicholas Villeneuve.

Last week, Villeneuve was acquitted of all eight charges against him in a case that played out in Gander.

The Crown pledged to appeal those decisions to Newfoundland and Labrador's Court of Appeal.

Villeneuve, 22, was charged with two counts of impaired driving causing death and several other charges following a collision west of Gander on July 9, 2019.

Police alleged Villeneuve was drunk when his car collided with an oncoming SUV at around 4 a.m. that day.

The crash killed John and Sandra Lush, a couple from Lewisporte. It seriously injured their daughter, Suzanne, and Suzanne Lush's boyfriend, Josh Whiteway. Whiteway is now paralyzed from the waist down.

The decision to acquit came after two pre-trial decisions in which provincial court Judge Mark Linehan ruled Villeneuve's charter rights were violated. He ruled several key pieces of evidence could not be used by the prosecution.

That evidence included a blood sample taken from Villeneuve the night of the crash and other notes that police made that night. The judge ruled an investigating officer breached Villeneuve's charter rights by failing to advise him of his right to a lawyer.

It's not yet clear what the Crown will argue on appeal. Strickland said in a statement Wednesday the Crown would make no further comment ahead of a hearing.

A lawyer representing Villeneuve said she did not know of the appeal plans until they were publicly announced, and said she could not comment further.

The Crown's announcement came just ahead of demonstrations that had been planned across the province to ask for an appeal in the case.

Linda Dwyer, a resident of Harbour Grace, was planning to attend in Bay Roberts, even though she has no personal connection to the victims. She said the decision made her feel like victims of crime had no rights in the criminal justice system.

Derek Bennett/Facebook
Derek Bennett/Facebook

"I'm blaming the law more than anybody," she told CBC Radio's On The Go. "What gives him the right to walk away from it, when obviously the family will never get over it?"

"He made a silly, silly mistake. Do I believe he should be shoved in jail for the rest of his life? No, I don't. But I do believe he should be given the same punishment as he would have been given if his rights had been read to him."

Hoping for change to Criminal Code

She said she hoped the protests would catch the eye of federal government representatives who have the power to change the Criminal Code.

"I haven't got a great amount of hope, but I've got some hope, and hope has to start somewhere," she said.

Dwyer said it would be impossible for the Lush and Whiteway families to heal while the man who was accused of causing the death of their loved ones walks free.

She said Whiteway had reached out to her personally to thank her for her involvement.

"It's not that I know them, it's humanity. It's part of being human. It's part of feeling. Because can feel for him and I can feel for her."

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