A snowmobile crash killed her only son. As the court case wraps up, this mother details her grief

·4 min read
Sherry Pollard's only son, Justyn Pollard, was killed when the snowmobile he was on collided with a taxi on the bridge to the Humber Valley Resort in 2017. (Submitted by Sherry Pollard - image credit)
Sherry Pollard's only son, Justyn Pollard, was killed when the snowmobile he was on collided with a taxi on the bridge to the Humber Valley Resort in 2017. (Submitted by Sherry Pollard - image credit)

More than four years after her son's death, Sherry Pollard appeared in a Corner Brook courtroom Thursday to read aloud her victim impact statement, at times breaking down as she put her pain into paragraphs.

She spoke of the short life of Justyn Pollard, and her grief without him, via a video link, wearing a T-shirt with his image and a locket around her neck containing his ashes.

"I wear it every day. I don't go anywhere without it," Pollard told CBC News after the day's court proceedings wrapped.

It was a morning of submissions to the Supreme Court to help determine the sentence for Thomas Whittle, convicted of three charges for the snowmobile crash that killed Justyn, including driving the snowmobile dangerously and drunk in the early morning of Feb. 19, 2017.

Justyn Pollard, 21, was riding behind Whittle when it crashed into a taxi van on the bridge to Humber Valley Resort. Pollard died from his injuries soon afterward, but the legal proceedings stemming from the crash continue to play out, with Thursday marking the first day Sherry Pollard could detail her and her family's heartbreak.

"I felt I needed to tell my side, of how much pain we've gone through with this ordeal. We lost an only child. We lost an only nephew. An only grandchild," she said, a framed picture of Justyn surrounded by her, his uncle and grandmother — all of whom submitted victim impact statements to the court on Thursday — hanging beside her.

Justyn remains both a presence and absence in her life. His childhood ukulele stands as one of the many reminders of him in her home, and friends of his still message her with memories. But those remnants are all she has left, and in contrast she said the losses Whittle talked about during the trial didn't compare.

"He talked about losing his job and his friends, and these are material things. We lost a soul. And that's not replaceable," she said.

'There was no empathy'

Whittle maintained throughout his trial it had been Justyn Pollard's hands steering the snowmobile at the time of the crash, despite Whittle sitting in the front seat. He also said the two had switched positions several times, a version of that night that Sherry Pollard said doesn't square with the son she raised.

He was meticulous with his belongings, from keeping his sneakers spotless to caring for his French bulldog — and with no experience with snowmobiles, she said, he would never have driven one after a night of drinking.

"There's no way Justyn was going to drive that Ski-Doo that night. Especially being impaired. He just wasn't careless that way," she said.

The fact that he wasn't wearing a helmet "I thought was just beyond incomprehensible at first," she said, later accepting it as "just stupid." During her victim impact statement, she tearfully implored people to always wear theirs.

Beyond the details of the night, Pollard said Whittle's comportment during the court proceedings was rude, and inconsiderate. He represented himself throughout, and on Thursday, Whittle was at times terse and dismissive, using his final moment of addressing the court to say to Justice George Murphy, "You're gonna do what you want anyway."

"I thought he was extremely disrespectful. I found through the whole trial he was very disrespectful, he was very quick to say stuff to the judge that floored me," Pollard said.

Thomas Whittle of Conception Bay South was convicted in January of all three charges he faced connected to the crash. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Monday.
Thomas Whittle of Conception Bay South was convicted in January of all three charges he faced connected to the crash. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Monday.(Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Whittle did apologize to the family on Thursday, saying he was remorseful and sorry for their pain and loss. Pollard doesn't buy it.

"There was no remorse, there was no empathy," she said.

"There was no feeling behind that apology. and to just throw it in at the end, as an afterthought, is pretty much how it felt to me."

But even as Pollard struggles with her continued pain, she hopes for a future for Whittle, and that his time behind bars will serve a purpose.

"I hope he's going to get some help for his actions, and he's gonna come out, I hope, a better man. and move on with his life," she said.

She hopes he will get married, have children and his mother becomes a grandmother — all things denied to her and her son.

"I don't get any of those things, you know, and I felt … that he needed to hear that. He needed to hear that this is what [he's] done to me."

Whittle will be sentenced on Monday.

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