Man cleared in cyclist's death handed conditional sentence for obstructing justice

The man cleared in the 2015 hit-and-run death of a cyclist has been ordered to perform community service and stick to a curfew for attempting to cover up the incident.

Deinsberg St-Hilaire said he was asleep when he struck Andy Nevin on Leitrim Road in south Ottawa the morning of June 28. 2015.

The driver said he woke up when he heard a bang and, when he didn't see anything in his rearview mirror, assumed he'd hit a mailbox and kept driving.

He was found not guilty of dangerous driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene in November, a verdict Nevin's family called "sickening" after they walked out of the courtroom.

The judge said the Crown had failed to prove its case and much of the evidence was circumstantial.

St-Hilaire did plead guilty to obstructing justice, and on Wednesday the judge handed him a one-year conditional sentence of 100 hours community service, a curfew from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. and an order to hand over his passport.

He'll be allowed to keep working.

Repaired truck in secret

In reading the sentence, Superior Court Justice Catherine Aitken noted that once St-Hilaire realized he'd been involved in the fatal collision days earlier, he began arranging covert repairs of his truck, covering the vehicle with a tarp, remove the licence plates and having it driven under the cover of darkness to and from a body shop.

St-Hilaire checked himself into a hotel after investigators came knocking at his door asking to see his white Ford pickup, which matched the description of the vehicle involved in the collision.

While Aitken accepted that St-Hilaire felt remorse, she said his failure to contact police prolonged the suffering of Nevin's family.

Racial fears reasonable, judge agrees

Justice Aitken accepted the defence's argument that, as a black man, St-Hilaire had reason to be concerned about how police would treat him. 

"Mr. St-Hilaire's actions in obstructing a peace officer were the result of his being overwhelmed with fear of how he would be treated in the justice system, a fear arising in part due to experiences earlier in life when he was subjected to bullying and racism in the school context, and due to experiences more recently where he did not feel fairly treated by police officers during traffic stops," Aitken said.

"In saying this, I'm not suggesting that those fears justify someone obstructing a peace officer," Airtken continued. "I'm simply accepting that fear of how he and his family would be treated played a role in Mr. St-Hilaire making the unwise decision not to cooperate with police in their investigation."

The judge also accepted testimonials from St-Hilaire's friends, co-workers and pastor, who described him as an honest and decent person who had acted out of character when he obstructed justice.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

'Slap on the wrist'

Close to a dozen relatives and friends of Nevin listened closely in the courtroom while Justice Aitken delivered her sentence, and many of them could be heard making comments condemning the judge, St-Hilaire and the criminal justice system.

Outside the courthouse, Nadia Robinson, Nevin's former partner and the mother of his two sons, expressed her frustration at the judge and the conditional sentence.

"He gets slap on the wrist. They're not setting a good example for future cases, that's for sure," said Robinson. "I don't agree with the judge. He should have done at least some time. I knew we weren't going to get a lot, but some time.... Andy's not here to help support my kids."

'We'll repair ourselves'

Asked if she can ever picture herself and her sons recovering from the tragedy, Robinson said she's hopeful to get there one day.

"We'll repair ourselves. My boys are beautiful, they're smart, they're bright. Andy was an amazing, amazing man. He taught them a lot of good morals and values. We'll make sure that this is not going to put us in the hole. It's already hurt us for four years. But today, that's it. We can't change what happened, but we can try to make Andy proud, and that's what we're going to do.

The Crown had argued for a year in jail while the defence asked for a maximum 90-day jail sentence, though they preferred either a conditional sentence or probation and community service.