‘The death of this girl was not his fault’

Rosie
Rosie Mullaley
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Mechanic who OK’d safety of car involved in fatal crash to be sentenced next week

Wayne Joseph Johnson will likely see jail time when he’s sentenced next week in provincial court in St. John’s. The 51-year-old pleaded guilty to five charges, including making a false motor vehicle safety inspection certificate for a car that crashed October 2009, killing Kayla Reid. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

He falsely approved the safety of a mechanically defective car that was involved in a fatal accident.

But Wayne Joseph Johnson wasn’t responsible for the death of the young woman in the crash, his lawyer said Thursday.

“We cannot change the past,” Bob Simmonds said in St. John’s provincial court during Johnson’s sentencing hearing.

“(But) the death of this girl was not his fault.”

Kayla Reid was killed Oct. 3, 2009, when she was thrown from the car that went off the road on Blackhead Road. Two other female passengers were injured.

The driver, Natasha Stapleton — who was driving up to 127 km/h and lost control of the car — was charged with dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm, but was acquitted in November following a trial.

During that trial, it was revealed that Stapleton’s 2001 Buick Prix — which she had bought two days before from Johnson, a licensed mechanic — had defects that may have affected the handling of the car.

One of the major defects was a broken left front sway bar link, which can affect steering.

During the investigation, police discovered Johnson had forged the safety inspection certificate for the car by putting the names of his business associate and his son on the document.

Johnson pleaded guilty to issuing a false motor vehicle safety inspection, breach of trust and making a false document.

He also entered guilty pleas to two counts of driving while prohibited from separate incidents.

Simmonds said a sentence of nine months in prison would be appropriate, but Crown prosecutor Jennifer Colford suggested double that time, along with a lengthier driving ban.

Judge Colin Flynn was ready to give his decision shortly after the hearing concluded, but Simmonds requested a postponement to allow his client time to prepare for what will likely be a jail sentence.

Flynn will render his decision Jan. 13.

Johnson left the courtroom quietly after proceedings, but he was less calm beforehand.

Prior to the start of the hearing, Johnson pushed an NTV camera as he walked past.

Johnson later said the cameraman was in the way.

Johnson has had trouble with the law in the past, mainly regarding impaired driving.

In an incident unrelated to the fraudulent inspection, Johnson was stopped by police in September 2009 and again in February 2010 in routine traffic stops. He was not supposed to be driving, having been issued a five-year driving prohibition in 2007, at which time he was convicted on impaired driving charges.

Simmonds said Johnson, who was an abuse victim in the Mount Cashel incidents, had a problem with alcohol for many years, but has gotten it under control in recent years.

Simmonds said Johnson was also co-operative with police following the 2009 accident.

While Colford acknowledged that the car’s defects did not cause the fatal crash, she pointed out that what Johnson did was still a serious crime.

“We’re not alleging the defects contributed to the accident,” she said, “but falsely insuring an inspection is a matter of public safety. There’s potential for very unfortunate consequences to arise. A person will rely on (the inspection) and assume the car is safe to drive. …

“There’s potential for dire consequences.”

She also pointed to Johnson’s criminal record, which includes several impaired-related convictions and court breaches, in particular the breach of the driving prohibition.

“He was to have complied with court orders (not to drive),” Colford said, “(but) has chosen not to do so.”

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Blackhead Road, Mount Cashel

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Recent comments

  • Marianne
    January 08, 2011 - 12:40

    People fail to see the high speed in the Stapleton case. The police investigation did say that the car was traveling (127km) on a dark winding road before crashing. Even the passengers in this car who did survive this traumatic ordeal stated the same. Any vehicle to be in a collision at this speed will sustain damage, especially a sway bar link, even a brand new vehicle bought right off a dealer. This man is unfortunate in that signing an inspection slip like hundreds of other mechanics do on a daily basis. So this could happen to any certified mechanic. To have over come a great deal in his life according to his lawyer and for any person to get on here and comment badly, just shows how low a person can be to judge another. It will be a shame if there is time given to this man, yes he should be held accountable for signing the slip but to be given jail time, where is the justice?

  • mom
    January 08, 2011 - 01:47

    I have to agree with WHAT's comments. Even though the girl's death was tragic, it was caused by the driver speeding. From this article I see that the mechanic had overcome a great deal in his life. I hope that the future is kinder to him than the past has been.

  • What
    January 07, 2011 - 13:20

    This article is supposed to be about a mechanic falsly signing off on an inspection slip. Why bring up impaired driving charges from his past ? Did DUI's make him an incompetant worker ? Why bring up the death of a young, innocent lady when all parties involved agree it has nothing to do with Mr. Johnstons' inspection of the vehicle. After the vehicle spun out and left the road at 127 kmh, is it not possible that damage may have occurred to the underbody/steering mechanisms that may have been O.K before hand? I hydroplaned at 75 kmh, slid off the road over a slight grade with not a bump, and had to replace a full steering column, tie-rods and control arms on a vehicle that was Honda Certified. Judge the man on what he is charged with, not unrelated incidents.

  • whateverbud
    January 07, 2011 - 13:10

    This mechanic is facing jail time and the person driving the car got off scott free?? I mean REALLY,who is more responsible for that girls death? A: the mechanic who issued a false inspection OR B: girl who buys a 20 year old car the day before (did she go get a second opinion?),was a new driver,CHOSE to drive this car at 127km/h on a dark,winding unfamiliar stretch of road with a carload of passengers?? Personally,I wouldnt buy a 20 year old car,if I did I would have my own mechanic check it,I wouldn't drive it at 127km/h on any road,let alone Blackhead Rd at night.Why? Because I act responsibly,not negligently. Noone beat this girl with a stick or put a gun to her head for her to do what she did.THAT is called gross negligence. But apparently THAT isn't a crime.

  • Erin
    January 07, 2011 - 12:29

    I agree with LENA, throw the book at him.... “(But) the death of this girl was not his fault.” It may not have been him behind that wheel, but one has to wonder 'what if'...Could that car have been corrected by Stapleton when she lost control? "During that trial, it was revealed that Stapleton’s 2001 Buick Prix — which she had bought two days before from Johnson, a licensed mechanic — had defects that may have affected the handling of the car" They will not blame this man for the death of Ms. Reid, nor should Ms. Stapleton have all the blame taken off her...The simple truth is they are both at fault here: he sold a car, knowing FULL well what could happen if someone pushed that car too far ( which is disgusting due to the fact he's a licensed mechanic ) and Ms. Stapleton because of her reckless speeding....In my eyes, both of these people took an innocent girl from her life and family...

  • Kent
    January 07, 2011 - 12:27

    I'm the last person to defend a guy like Johnson, however, the cause of the crash was the driver drivring recklessly at a high rate of speed (140 km/hr) at night on a narrow, unlighted, winding round. She could have been driving a tank and the outcome would a been the same, a fatality. Meanwhile, Johnson should be held accountable for certifify any car car that should not have passed inspection.

  • P F Murphy
    January 07, 2011 - 09:35

    So the car killed Ms. Reid? It allowed itself to go too fast and didn't repair itself so it could travel at that speed and not veer off the road to crash? Have I got what our justice system is allowing to be maintained correct?

  • Lena
    January 07, 2011 - 08:28

    Not responsible? Surely his actions contributed to the circumstances that killed this poor girl. In any event, his conduct is reprehensible and he is most assuredly responsible for endangering the safety of the public by falsifying inspection documents. Throw the book at him.