British Columbia

He stole his car — not his heart, judge finds in luxury-car theft case

When asked why Lawrence Ducharme would have sold his prized sports car for a fraction of its value, Aaron Wood argued that people who are in love 'do crazy things.' But there's crazy, and then there's selling your $100,000 Nissan to a man your friends have never heard of for a third of that amount.

Criminal past comes back to haunt B.C. man who took stand to explain ownership of dead man's vehicle

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has rejected a Surrey man's claim to ownership of an expensive Nissan vehicle finding instead that the man stole the car. (David Horemans/CBC)

When asked why Lawrence Ducharme would have sold his prized sports car to him for a fraction of its value, Aaron Wood argued that people who are in love "do crazy things." 

But there's crazy, and then there's allegedly selling your $100,000 Nissan GT-R for less than a third of its value to a man your closest friends and family have never heard of.

And that was just one of the many things that didn't add up in the strange case of the dead man's vehicle as Wood took the stand in B.C. Supreme Court to explain how he had come to register the car as his own.

There was a mysterious break in days after Ducharme's death. The theft of a key fob. A police chase of a man who hopped in a vehicle that looked remarkably like one owned by Wood's common law spouse.

And, of course, Wood's own criminal record.

In deciding the case, Justice Alan Ross framed the puzzle as a logical balancing act.

"Who is the owner of a vehicle? In that respect, the only factual question is whether Mr. Lawrence Ducharme, who is now deceased, sold his vehicle to Mr. Wood," the judge asked.

"One party put forward a case of improbabilities. The other party put forward a case of probabilities. The balance favours the latter."

A complicated mess

Wood's improbable tale resulted not only in Ross deciding the Surrey man was not the rightful owner of the Nissan GT-R at the heart of the case, but that he had stolen it from Ducharme's residence two weeks after his death in January 2016.

Although Ross delivered an oral ruling in September, the unusual decision was only posted to the court's website last week.

This file photo version of a Nissan GT-R costs $575,000. The model Lawrence Ducharme owned was worth about $100,000. (@NissanUSA/Twitter)

Ducharme died from a stroke on Jan. 16, 2016. The break-in to his home occurred on Jan. 28 — and in the middle of the following night, neighbours heard someone drive off with the Nissan

Wood has never been criminally charged with stealing the car, but according to the ruling, RCMP told him he was a suspect in the break-in and subsequent theft of the vehicle.

A Surrey RCMP officer found the car without any plates when he was out on patrol almost a year later.

The situation hit the courts in 2017 when Wood sued the Insurance Corporation of B.C. after showing up at the lot where the vehicle had ultimately landed with papers that he claimed proved the car was his.

ICBC had already paid out a theft claim of nearly $110,000 to Ducharme's estate. And so all the parties ended up in court trying to untangle a complicated mess.

Wood's version of events

Wood testified that he met the dead man at a marijuana dispensary and they developed an "intimate" relationship.

He claimed Ducharme agreed to sell him the 2014 vehicle for $30,000 in the months before his death. But Wood claimed he couldn't register the vehicle because he had an outstanding debt with ICBC.

Police responded to a report of a break in two weeks after Lawrence Ducharme's death. The next night, his Nissan vanished. A judge found that Aaron Wood stole the car. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

When he learned that Ducharme had died, Wood claimed he went to the house and drove the car away.

He claimed he sent the car off to be detailed and that his friend "never reported back to him about what happened to the vehicle."

In March 2017, he went to an ICBC agent with a transfer form that purported to contain Ducharme's signature.

But Ducharme's closest friends say he never mentioned Wood or any plans to part with a car he loved.

And then came the cross-examination.

A 'particularly effective' grilling

The judge called the grilling of Wood "particularly effective."

It turned out he had been previously convicted of fraud, possession of stolen property, identity theft and uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm.

Wood also confirmed that his common law spouse owned a red Honda CRV — the same vehicle Wood was driving when he was pulled over by RCMP around the time of theft from Ducharme's residence.

A man was also seen jumping into a very similar vehicle after he was chased by a police officer who showed up to investigate in the minutes after the break-in.

"Mr. Wood denies that he broke into Mr. Ducharme's residence on January 28, 2016 or that he was involved in that break-in," Ross said.

But the judge wasn't convinced.

The clue of the extra 'l'

Ross concluded that none of Wood's testimony could be taken at face value as truthful or accurate and said the documents he tendered into evidence were likely forgeries.

The judge even noted his own interesting "factual tidbit" — pointing out that the word "until" was spelled with two 'l' in the transfer document through which Wood claimed Ducharme had signed the Nissan over to him.

It was the same way Wood spelled "u-n-t-i-l-l" in the court documents he filled out to assert his claim.

"I find it extremely unlikely that both Mr. Ducharme and Mr. Wood would have misspelled that word in exactly the same manner," the judge said.

The upshot of the ruling is that ICBC is the rightful owner of the car, which Ducharme's estate was found to have properly reported stolen.

And both the insurer and the estate are entitled to recoup the costs of the trial.

But not "u-n-t-i-l-l" they can get the money from Wood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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