The defence lawyer for a man on trial for a November 2018 crash that killed a Mississauga man says the prosecutor has failed to prove that his client was indeed the one driving when the car left the road and plunged into Lake Ontario in Oakville.
Defence lawyer Craig Bottomley also told a Milton judge Friday that the courts should find reasonable doubt in the Crown’s allegation that Aaron Dobbs was impaired and driving dangerously shortly before the crash that killed Shawn Harpur, 27. Harpur’s body was later found washed up not far from the crash site near Maple Grove Drive in Oakville.
“It’s the defence position that Mr. Dobbs was not the driver at the time of the collision,” Bottomley said during his closing submissions before Superior Court Justice Erika Chozik.
Bottomley presented an alternative theory, to which Dobbs testified at trial, that it was Harpur who took over driving at that point, mere minutes before the first call for help was made at around 3 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2018.
“If you’re convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Dobbs is the driver then it’s the defence position that he was not impaired, nor was he driving dangerously,” Bottomley said.
The Crown’s case against Dobbs hinges on the statements Dobbs made to police, the observations made by Halton Regional officers who found Dobbs at the scene after he went banging on the door of a nearby home, seeking help, and the testimony of Harpur’s friend Ryan Chwalka, who testified how he and Harpur met Dobbs for the first time that night before going bar-hopping around Mississauga, Bottomley said
A first trial against Dobbs, who was employed as a Peel Region paramedic at the time, ended in a hung jury in 2021, leading to his case being scheduled for a retrial this month before a judge alone in Milton.
Dobbs is facing charges of impaired operation and dangerous operation causing death, and failing to provide a breath sample.
Chwalka testified earlier in the trial that the last time he saw Harpur alive he was riding in the front passenger seat of Dobbs’ sedan. Bottomley said Chwalka also made contradicting statements that made it unclear which man he saw getting into the driver side of the car.
Bottomley discounted Chwalka’s testimony saying he had “significant animus,” towards Dobbs, whom he blamed for killing his friend. The lawyer also noted that Chwalka was intoxicated by cocaine and had consumed what Bottomley estimated to be at least 17 drinks.
“He’s an entirely unreliable witness and without credibility,” Bottomley said. “His story was replete with inconsistencies and should be discounted entirely.”
Chwalka has testified that he got out of the vehicle when Dobbs, who was driving at the time, stopped and let him out at Lakeshore Road and Devon Road as the men drove westbound toward Oakville. Bottomley said Chwalka was actually kicked out of the car because Dobbs was annoyed by his drunken behaviour.
“He’s the cornerstone of the Crown’s assertion that Mr. Dobbs drove away from the stop on Devon Road,” Bottomley said. “It would be dangerous to rely on his evidence in any regard.”
Bottomley also dismissed Chwalka’s account of Dobbs’ bizarre behaviour, even at one point driving over a curb, and how Dobbs just “went crazy,” and started talking about murders and going on a mission after drinking, saying Chwalka’s recollection made no sense.
He said surveillance footage depicting all three men inside a Mississauga bar is further proof that Dobbs was not exhibiting any obvious signs of intoxication, adding that Dobbs didn’t consume anywhere close the copious amounts of alcohol the other two men had.
Defence counsel said police exacted statements from Dobbs while he was “shivering and confused,” and making incoherent statements right after the crash. Police took poor notes and failed to make any audio or video recording of Dobbs until he was at the station, the lawyer said.
Dobbs also testified to being punched twice by one of the officers, Bottomley said
Earlier in the trial, Crown attorney Nick Chiera described the night out of boozing and bar-hopping that led up to Harpur’s death not long after he and Chwalka first met Dobbs at a Mississauga bar.
Police arrived to find a “chaotic scene” and Dobbs was found soaking wet on a property near the crash, yelling for the officers to “save his brother,” the court heard.
Police soon discovered the vehicle was in the water; Harpur’s body was found about eight hours later, some 200 metres up the shoreline. An autopsy revealed that he died from a combination of hypothermia and drowning.
In court, Chwalka testified that he had invited Harpur out for a few drinks at a Lakeshore Road West Mississauga restaurant. The men then continued drinking at the nearby Clarkson Bar and Grill.
“That’s when I met Aaron,” Chwalka said, describing a chance encounter with Dobbs, who had arrived at the establishment at around 1 a.m.
The judge will issue her verdict in June.
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