Travis Firmage, charged with drunk driving causing the death of Southern Harbour fisherman Calvin Tobin, unexpectedly pleaded not guilty on Wednesday morning — sending Tobin's family into tears.
Firmage, 32, entered his plea in court in Clarenville, where the matter had been set for speedy disposition, which usually indicates a guilty plea is coming.
Tobin's relatives, who cried after the brief court hearing, declined to speak to reporters.
Firmage is charged with drunk driving causing death in the August 1, 2017 accident that killed Tobin, 25. He also pleaded not guilty to a second charge of impaired driving causing bodily harm to another man.
At the time of the accident, police said Firmage's car crossed into the opposite lane of traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway outside of Clarenville, and struck a transport truck at about 11:30 p.m.
Tobin, 25, a passenger in Firmage's vehicle, was injured in the accident and was pronounced dead in hospital.
His death sparked a battle between the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union and Tobin's family, who fought over a death benefit insurance payout.
The FFAW initially told the family that no payout would be coming — as Tobin's insurance policy had expired one day prior to his death — but later admitted an error in its handling of the issue, and apologized to the family.
Firmage was also injured in the accident that killed Tobin. He waived bail and has been held in custody since January.
He is set to return to Newfoundland and Labrador provincial court in September, where a trial of three days is scheduled.