Man pleads guilty in hit and run that killed Canadian Forces veteran

Jackie Deveau, 54, of Cape Breton, was walking between two lanes of traffic on Highway 125 near Sydney when he was struck. His family has said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had sought treatment at a hospital a few days earlier.

Jackie Deveau, who had PTSD, was walking in middle of Cape Breton highway when he was struck

Jackie Deveau, right, is seen in this photo with his wife, Lorna. (Lorna-Jackie Deveau/Facebook)

A 27-year-old Sydney, N.S., man has pleaded guilty to a hit and run that claimed the life of a Canadian Forces veteran, and has admitted he also obstructed justice in the case.

Jackie Deveau, 54, of Chéticamp, was walking between two lanes of traffic on Highway 125 near Sydney when he was struck on March 11, 2017. His family has said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had sought treatment at a hospital a few days earlier.

Thomas Joseph Smith was charged with a series of offences in late May, including criminal negligence causing death (texting while driving), dangerous driving causing death and leaving the scene of an accident. He pleaded not guilty.

In Sydney provincial court Tuesday, the Crown withdrew the most serious charges and Smith pleaded guilty to leaving the scene, driving on a suspended licence and obstruction of justice.

Crown prosecutor Shane Russell told reporters outside the courtroom that the RCMP thoroughly investigated and produced a great deal of evidence, much of which was presented at the first day of a preliminary hearing last week.

"Mr. Smith would have heard some of that evidence as it unfolded," said Russell. "And it was after hearing that evidence that I guess he decided he was going to change his plea."

(Robert Short/CBC)

Smith will be sentenced March 29. His defence lawyer, Peter Mancini, said it became clear during the preliminary inquiry that the evidence did not support the dangerous driving and criminal negligence charges.

An agreed statement of facts presented in court said Deveau had flagged down a number of drivers while walking along Highway 125 the night he died. He asked one for cigar, the court was told.

The court was also told that after the accident, Smith asked different people to store his car. The car was later found burned near a lake.

Five other people, including Smith's mother and girlfriend, face accessory-after-the-fact and obstruction of justice charges related to the case.

Mancini said Smith feels remorse about Deveau's death.

"I think he feels badly that the whole thing happened, but I think he's relieved, as everybody is, that it's over," the lawyer said.

Ida Lelievre said the family is relieved that justice has been done. (CBC)

Deveau's sister, Ida Lelievre, said the family are relieved Smith has pleaded guilty and has spared them the strain of a trial.

Deveau had sought treatment for his PTSD at Cape Breton Regional Hospital and the family still doesn't know how he ended up on the highway. With the guilty plea, the family will now decide how to follow up on the death, Lelievre said.

"We still have to go through some of his medical files," Lelievre said. "So we're still looking at what it is that we have to ask and what are the questions, and what happens, so exactly what that's going to look like, we're not sure yet."

With files from Norma Jean MacPhee