'I never meant to hurt him': Saint John senior sentenced for ramming pedestrian with SUV

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A 69-year-old Saint John man has been stripped of his driver's licence for a year and sentenced to time already served behind bars for deliberately ramming his SUV into a pedestrian on the city's east side in February.

Gene Williams, a retired businessman, previously pleaded guilty to assaulting Timothy Tyler, 23, with a weapon — the SUV —  dangerous driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Williams, who has been in custody since the Feb. 23 incident, also received an additional six-month conditional sentence to be served in the community.

The tall, large man sobbed openly as he stood in the prisoner's box in Saint John provincial court on Monday.

"I'm sorry for my actions that day," he choked out. "I never meant to hurt him."

Tyler, who suffered a dislocated shoulder, was not present in court Monday, but did submit a written victim impact statement, which the court would not immediately release. He has launched a civil suit against Williams, court heard, although no documents were immediately available.

The hit and run stemming from a dispute over a parking spot at a doctor's office was captured on video, which has had more than 437,000 views on social media, where it's been labelled a case of "road rage."

The 35-second video shows a black Audi being driven straight into a young man, sending him flying into the air like a rag doll.

"Oh my God, he just hit my friend," a woman shooting the video screams. She was on the phone with Saint John police at the time. "He smoked him," she tells the dispatcher, as she runs over to her friend's side. "Are you OK?" she cries out.

'Totally unacceptable'

Judge Marco Cloutier told Williams what he did was "not only troubling, but it was totally unacceptable."

"You are walking on thin ice with a conditional sentence," he said.

The judge acknowledged that Williams has had a productive life. He ordered him to attend treatment and assessment, as determined by his probation officer.

Defence lawyer David Lutz, who has known Williams for 25 years, told reporters outside the courthouse the sentence is "proper."

"He spent seven weeks [in custody] and he had time to reflect about his behaviour. He's very ashamed of what he did with respect to this incident."

Lutz told the court Williams has had a black cloud over him, with a string of recent problems.

Williams, who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry, was selling spices to cruise passengers as a retirement project, but was made to stop following a dispute, said Lutz, without elaborating.

Then his marriage to his wife, who holds an executive position and supported him financially, ended after he assaulted her by striking her twice with an open hand, knocking her eyeglasses off — another charge he also pleaded guilty to, Lutz said.

On the day of the hit and run, because Williams was in a bit of hurry, he said he exchanged some profanities with Tyler and his friend, whose vehicle was temporarily blocking his SUV.

Then, "for some stupid unknown reason," Williams followed them for about 30 minutes to a parking lot on the city's east side and "got trapped," Lutz said.

Williams did not speed up, said Lutz.

"He approached [Tyler] and pushed him away."

Williams has since lost his car and house insurance and his insurance company will not defend him in the suit launched by Tyler, said Lutz.

"He just seems to have lost everything in the last eight months," he said.

Lutz urged the judge to consider a conditional sentence, noting the pre-sentence report described Williams as being a "productive member of society," and that he had no prior criminal and no substance abuse problem.

Tyler previously described the incident to CBC News.

He said it all started when a friend's vehicle temporarily blocked Williams's SUV in a parking lot at a doctor's office in Grand Bay-Westfield, outside Saint John. At the time, the girlfriend of Tyler's friend was putting their three-month-old son into a car seat.

There was a verbal exchange and then a 30-minute highway chase, ending at their destination on Coldbrook Crescent, he said. When Tyler got out of the car, the war of words continued, and that's when Tyler was deliberately run down, he said. 

Tyler said he kept reliving the moment of impact with the SUV in his nightmares.

"The same thing over and over."

Williams, who was arrested about a half-hour after the incident, has been in custody ever since.

He was also sentenced Monday for two previous charges stemming from the domestic violence incident on Aug. 22, 2016 — assaulting his wife and resisting arrest.

The arresting officer had to wrestle Williams to the ground, the courtroom heard. Williams has since apologized to the officer, said Lutz.

Cloutier sentenced Williams to time served for those two charges, plus a six-month conditional sentence to be served concurrently.

"I am satisfied there is genuine remorse," he said.