Surprise not guilty plea stuns family of fisherman killed in crash

Travis Firmage, who has been accused of drunk driving in the death of fisherman Calvin Tobin, unexpectedly pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning.

Family of Calvin Tobin were expecting Travis Firmage to plead guilty to drunk driving

Travis Firmage, 32, is brought out of court after pleading not guilty in a brief hearing in Clarenville on Wednesday. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Travis Firmage, charged with drunk driving causing the death of Southern Harbour fisherman Calvin Tobin, unexpectedly pleaded not guilty on Wednesday morning — sending Tobin's family into tears.

Firmage, 32, entered his plea in court in Clarenville, where the matter had been set for speedy disposition, which usually indicates a guilty plea is coming.

Calvin Tobin, 25, died in the hours following a car crash on Aug. 1, 2017 — a day after his insurance expired. His union initially told his family a death benefit payout was denied. (Submitted)

Tobin's relatives, who cried after the brief court hearing, declined to speak to reporters.

Firmage is charged with drunk driving causing death in the August 1, 2017 accident that killed Tobin, 25. He also pleaded not guilty to a second charge of impaired driving causing bodily harm to another man.

Strong reactions to an unexpected plea from a man charged in the death of Calvin Tobin. 1:01

At the time of the accident, police said Firmage's car crossed into the opposite lane of traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway outside of Clarenville, and struck a transport truck at about 11:30 p.m.

Tobin, 25, a passenger in Firmage's vehicle, was injured in the accident and was pronounced dead in hospital.

His death sparked a battle between the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union and Tobin's family, who fought over a death benefit insurance payout.

The FFAW initially told the family that no payout would be coming — as Tobin's insurance policy had expired one day prior to his death — but later admitted an error in its handling of the issue, and apologized to the family.

The driver of the car that struck this transport truck is charged with impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm. (Lee Pitts/CBC)

Firmage was also injured in the accident that killed Tobin. He waived bail and has been held in custody since January.

He is set to return to Newfoundland and Labrador provincial court in September, where a trial of three days is scheduled.