Family members of Veronica Doyle Lewis wept openly in court as they listened to the horrifying details of how William Conway — in a drunken stupor — ran over their mother with his pickup truck and killed her.
She had been clinging to the side of his truck and fell off while he was backing out of his driveway on Firdale Drive in the Airport Heights area of St. John’s.
Conway told police he had seen her in his rear-view mirror, but when she went out of view, he
continued to back up and then drove off. He got as far as the end of the road and decided to turn around.
He told police that as he was driving back towards the apartment, he “mistakenly believed that Lewis should have been OK for the fall off the truck and that she had gone back inside.”
As he was looking towards the apartment for her, he felt two quick thumps under this truck. He got out and saw it was Lewis, lying in the middle of the road, bleeding.
Conway panicked. In shock, and not knowing whether Lewis was dead or alive, he said, he ran back into his truck and sped off.
Sobs and sniffles could be heard in the courtroom as Crown prosecutor Jeff Summers read the agreed statement of facts in provincial court during Conway’s sentencing hearing.
Conway, 51, pleaded guilty to five charges, including three in connection with the incident that killed Lewis on a rainy and windy night on Oct. 24, 2013.
He pleaded guilty to criminal negligence by operating a vehicle that caused death, and three counts of breaching an undertaking, since the court had ordered that he abstain from alcohol, not drive and stay away from Lewis, since he had been charged with assaulting her in August of that year.
Conway has been in custody since his arrest on the day he killed Lewis, who had been his girlfriend for a year and half.
The couple had been on a drinking binge and consumed prescription pills, including Percocet, Tylenol and Lorazepam, at the apartment, where Lewis had lived most of the time with Conway.
At around 12:30 a.m., the two got into an argument. The landlord, a nurse, who lived upstairs, said she heard Lewis say, “See ya!” and doors slamming.
Conway told police he decided to leave the apartment. He said he didn’t know Lewis had followed him until he saw her on his truck. He insisted he didn’t know he had hit her until he came back.
The 57-year-old woman’s body was found lying in the middle of the road by a man driving by about 20 minutes later. He called 911 and then set off his car alarm to get the attention of neighbours, who came running. The landlord came out and checked for Lewis’s pulse. There was none. Paramedics arrived soon after and confirmed she was dead.
At 2:35 a.m., police spotted Conway’s red Dodge Dakota pulling up to the gate at the Bell Island ferry terminal. Officers saw he was drunk. Several empty beer bottles were found in the pickup.
While breathalyzer tests taken at 6:05 a.m. and 6:25 a.m. registered readings of 110 milligrams of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, forensic experts determined his readings would have been between 149 and 198 at the time of driving.
Conway told police that after realizing what he had done, he drove to his sister’s house and told her to check on Lewis. He then continued to drive around until he was stopped by police.
The autopsy revealed that Lewis died as a result of “crushing injuries of the chest.”
Many of the roughly dozen family members — who wore T-Shirts that read “Justice for Veronica” — cried as four of them presented their victim impacts statements in court.
“She was not just a mother to me. She was my best friend,” Michelle Doyle said. “My mother was an amazing woman.”
Lewis’s oldest daughter, Lee Doyle, recalls hearing the devastating news that her mother was dead.
“I dropped to my knees on the floor and wept like a baby for my momma,” said Doyle, who said she cries every day and has nightmares.
Lewis’s granddaughter, Brenda Jenkins, said, “I’ve always heard about these things on the news, but you can never imagine that it could ever happen to you, to the ones you love most.”
Daughter-in-law Melody Doyle described how empty the family feels, especially during holidays.
Summers said a sentence of eight to 10 years is appropriate due to the aggravating factors — Conway left the scene and offered no assistance after hitting Lewis, he was drunk (his third impaired driving offence since 1997), he drove with no licence or insurance, and he breached several court orders.
Defence lawyer Michelle Coady said a sentence of four to six years in jail is more fitting, pointing out that just last week, Kenny Green got six years for the more serious charge of manslaughter.
She said Conway had a difficult childhood and began experimenting with alcohol at age 11. She said he had a particularly hard time in 2006, when, after being treated for a cerebral aneurysm, he used drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.
Conway has four children, all in Ontario, and wants to reconnect with them, she said. Since he’s been in jail, Conway has sought help for his addiction issues and is open to counselling.
From the start, she said, Conway admitted what he did and has shown great remorse.
She pointed out that hitting Lewis with his truck wasn’t a deliberate act.
“It was more a momentary lapse in judgment,” she said.
When Conway got to speak, he said, “I’d like to say sorry to all the family involved in this tragedy. I take full responsibility for my actions that night. That’s all I have to say, Your Honour.”
Judge Mark Linehan will render his decision June 17.