Tears and tension fill Corner Brook court as fatal snowmobile crash case nears end

·5 min read
Thomas Whittle of Conception Bay South was convicted in January of all three charges he faced connected to the crash. (Lindsay Bird/CBC - image credit)
Thomas Whittle of Conception Bay South was convicted in January of all three charges he faced connected to the crash. (Lindsay Bird/CBC - image credit)

The legal saga of a fatal snowmobile crash at Humber Valley Resort four years ago edged closer to its conclusion Thursday in a Corner Brook courtroom, as the victim's family detailed the depths of their grief and the man convicted in connection to his death was at times surly and curt.

Thursday morning's procedures in Corner Brook Supreme Court took emotional turns during the submissions for Thomas Whittle's sentencing. A jury convicted him in January of three charges stemming from the crash, including dangerous driving causing death, and impaired driving causing death.

"On Feb. 19, 2017, my world was crushed," Sherry Pollard told the court via video connection from Ontario, as she detailed the pain upon finding out her only son, Justyn Pollard, had died from injuries sustained in a snowmobile crash at Humber Valley Resort.

Pollard and Whittle were aboard a snowmobile in the early hours of that day, crossing the bridge that spans the Humber River, when it crashed into a taxi van. Pollard was 21 years old.

"We were all devastated when we lost him," said Sherry Pollard, reading her victim impact statement before the court, crying throughout. She described her son as a caring soul who loved fast cars and was so meticulous with his sneakers he'd scrub them clean with a toothbrush and rags.

Her pain was echoed as Pollard's grandmother, aunt, uncle and best friend detailed their loss in similarly emotional statements. His grandmother — who partially raised Pollard, her only grandson — spoke of her insomnia following the crash, and how every time she closed her eyes, the snowmobile crash flashed before her.

Justyn Pollard, 21, was killed when the snowmobile he was on collided with a taxi on the bridge to the Humber Valley Resort.
Justyn Pollard, 21, was killed when the snowmobile he was on collided with a taxi on the bridge to the Humber Valley Resort.(Submitted by Sherry Pollard)

A lack of remorse

All spoke of a lost future, as Pollard will never marry, have children, or make new memories alongside them. Pollard's aunt, Paula Hodder, also used some of her time in court to speak to Whittle's behaviour during the trial, saying that while Pollard's family felt sorry for him and his family, "we feel Thomas showed no respect nor any remorse," and that " we wish that Thomas can be honest with himself."

Whittle maintained throughout the trial that he was not driving the lime green Bombardier Freestyle at the time of the crash, and that despite sitting in front with Pollard behind him, it was Pollard's hands on the handlebars.

Whittle sat quietly during the statements, and afterward as Crown attorney Renee Coates centred her arguments for his sentencing on his attitude during the trial, saying he showed a lack of remorse and responsibility for his actions.

According to the pre-sentence report, Whittle felt neither his alcohol nor drug use were a problem, a factor she said "is extremely concerning," particularly after at trial he said drinking 14 beers in an evening wasn't a lot. She said he also didn't seek any rehabilitation services in the crash's aftermath.

Coates asked for Whittle to serve three years in custody, be given a four-year driving ban and be required to provide a DNA sample. "There needs to be a message sent to the public," she said, with his lack of remorse an "extremely aggravating" factor.

This was the snowmobile Whittle and Pollard were riding when it collided with a taxi on Feb. 19, 2017.  Pictures of it from the aftermath of the crash were evidence during Whittle's trial.
This was the snowmobile Whittle and Pollard were riding when it collided with a taxi on Feb. 19, 2017. Pictures of it from the aftermath of the crash were evidence during Whittle's trial.(Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Driving ban disputed

Whittle, who represented himself at trial, rebutted the Crown's submission. "A driving ban makes absolutely no sense," he said, adding that as he was previously employed as a tow truck driver, a ban would affect his ability to work.

Justice George Murphy noted his convictions carry a mandatory minimum one-year driving ban.

Whittle said he had sought some treatment, pointing to a mental health assessment completed by his sister, a social worker, that was not included in the pre-sentence report. Murphy dismissed it, saying in reaching his sentencing conclusions he can consider only the report's contents, and that any assessments should be carried out by an independent party.

The snowmobile collided with this taxi, with its driver testifying during Whittle's trial that he had pulled over when he saw the snowmobile coming towards his vehicle on a narrow bridge, with he and his passenger bracing for impact.
The snowmobile collided with this taxi, with its driver testifying during Whittle's trial that he had pulled over when he saw the snowmobile coming towards his vehicle on a narrow bridge, with he and his passenger bracing for impact.(Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Whittle also took issue with aspects of the victim impact statements, including the one from Pollard's aunt and uncle, which detailed their fears of seeing Whittle in public again.

"I think it's childish they said it," said Whittle, pointing to his lack of a prior criminal record and limited encounters with Pollard's family, ones he said were marked by bullying and intimidation on the family's part. Murphy countered that, saying there has been no evidence of such behaviour, and Pollard's family could express their subjective thoughts.

An apology

Whittle did use some of his time Thursday to apologize, and said he was remorseful, and unable to comprehend the Pollards' experience over the last four years.

"I am sorry for their loss and the pain they have endured," he said.

Whittle asked for an intermittent sentence, one that would allow him to continue to work in the community, something Murphy said was available only for sentences far shorter than what his convictions carry. Whittle also did not want a DNA order, and repeated that a driving ban would be "a little bit harsh."

The Crown countered harshness was part of the point in a case where there has been a death.

"There has to be real and tangible consequences," said Coates.

Whittle had been out in the community with conditions during the trial, but was remanded into custody at the end of Thursday's hearing.
Whittle had been out in the community with conditions during the trial, but was remanded into custody at the end of Thursday's hearing.(Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Randy Piercey, a lawyer appointed by the court to aid in the proceedings, said a three-year prison sentence is at the top end of the scale, and thought two years was more appropriate, to reflect a lack of a prior record and Whittle's apology.

Before adjourning, Murphy offered Whittle a final word on the matters, to which Whittle curtly replied, "You're gonna do what you want anyway."

Whittle was remanded into custody as court ended Thursday. Murphy is scheduled to deliver his sentence Monday afternoon.

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