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.”