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Judge dismisses application for acquittal in N.L. unlawful school bus certificate case

A school bus with its stop sign out and lights flashing.
A A mechanic who was convicted under the Highway Traffic Act in connection with school bus inspections won’t get an acquittal. — SaltWire Network file photo

A provincial court judge has turned down an application for an acquittal from a mechanic charged in connection with unlawful school bus inspection certificates.

Randall O’Reilly, owner and operator of O’Reilly’s Service Station in Tors Cove, is facing seven charges of causing a vehicle inspection certificate to be displayed without a proper inspection being carried out. He was charged under the province’s Highway Traffic Act.

in the fall of 2017 after an investigation by Service Newfoundland and Labrador’s Highway Enforcement branch turned up issues with seven school buses owned by Executive Taxi, which was also charged.

O’Reilly’s lawyer, Jon Noonan, had applied for a directed verdict in the case; an acquittal on the grounds that the essential elements of the crimes were not been made out by prosecutor Scott Hurley when he presented his case earlier this year.

Friday morning Judge Mike Madden dismissed that application, saying although some aspects of the Crown’s case were circumstantial, he couldn’t say there was no evidence at all that might support a guilty verdict if it were believed.

Among Noonan’s grounds for applying for an acquittal were arguments that O’Reilly had been charged under a section of legislation that didn’t apply to him, and that there had been no evidence presented to suggest the defects found with the school buses in question did not meet minimal standards of safety or evidence to prove that the defects had been present at the time the inspection certificates had been signed.

“As a judge I’m not equipped to determine whether (the defects) could have developed after the inspection or whether they failed to meet the minimum standards,” Madden said. “However, in each case, with each certificate with each bus, the certificate included entries that were in some instances nonsensical or missing entirely when they should not have been.”

For example, there were boxes ticked regarding electric brakes, but there are no electric brakes on buses, Madden said. In a number of cases, boxes were ticked for sections regarding landing gear or cargo body, which are also not applicable to buses. Sections pertaining to air brake systems and steering measurements were not completed, the judge pointed out.

In one case, the inspection was alleged to have been carried out on a date when the bus wasn’t even in the country.

Madden acknowledged the defense’s argument those errors were evidence of mistakes in completing the certificate, not in completing the inspection, but dismissed it.

“This is a motion on a directed verdict, not on proof beyond a reasonable doubt. There’s certainly some evidence that the inspection certificates were not completed as a result of an inspection but were carelessly and directly fabricated; enough evidence that, if believed, could result in a verdict of guilty.”

Madden said he was particularly concerned with the issue of whether the Crown had presented enough evidence that the accused had been the one to complete the certificates. There was no proof that it was O’Reilly’s handwriting on the certificate, no statement from O’Reilly that he had been the one to sign them, and no witnesses to say they had seen O’Reilly sign them. However, the document did contain what is alleged to be his signature.

“In this case I cannot agree that the signature of Randall O’Reilly ... on a commercial vehicle inspection certificate is totally devoid of evidence that the accused signed the certificate. It is some evidence,” Madden said.

Once Madden dismissed the application, Noonan indicated he needed time to consult with O’Reilly before deciding whether or not to call evidence at trial. The case will be called again Jan. 18.

tara_bradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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