Manitoba

Ex-Winnipeg police officer says he would have failed breathalyzer at time of fatal hit-run: parole decision

A former Winnipeg police officer testified in a parole hearing that he was likely impaired at the time of a fatal hit-and-run in 2017, according to parole decision documents obtained by CBC News.

Justin Holz was not given a breathalyzer for 3 or 4 hours after demand by police

Cody Severight, 23, died in hospital after being hit by Justin Holz's vehicle on Oct. 10, 2017. (Cody Severight/Facebook)

A former Winnipeg police officer testified in a parole hearing that he was likely impaired at the time of a fatal hit-and-run in 2017, according to parole decision documents obtained by CBC News.

Justin Holz, who served in the Winnipeg Police Service for eight years, is currently serving a 2½-year prison sentence for the death of Cody Severight, 23, who was killed when Holz struck him while speeding down Main Street on Oct. 10, 2017.

Holz was arrested for impaired driving that night, but court testimony and ensuing investigations conducted by the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), the province's police oversight body, have not sufficiently explained why it took hours for him to be given a breathalyzer test.

During a parole hearing, however, Holz "agreed that based on 'extrapolation' of [his] breath alcohol tests [he] would have been over the legal limit at the time of the offence," says a Parole Board of Canada decision, dated April 15, 2020, obtained by CBC News.

Holz visited a now-closed downtown pub with colleagues after work on Oct. 10, 2017. He drank four pints of beer and felt pressured by his colleagues to stay longer than he wanted to. Shortly after leaving the pub, he got in his vehicle and drove.

At 8:03 p.m., Severight was trying to cross the intersection at Main Street and Sutherland Avenue when Holz hit him while travelling nearly 80 km/h. The impact sent Severight flying more than 16 metres before he struck a cement container, leaving him with a fractured skull and broken neck. He later died in hospital.

Holz fled the scene, but called police 11 minutes after the collision. Officers found him in a parking lot about seven kilometres away from the scene.

At a parole hearing, Holz testified he left the scene because he recognized it as an area where a number of assaults were occurring. The scene was also near a known gang bar and, at the time, he was wearing a golf shirt that "identified [his] affiliation to law enforcement," the parole board decision says.

Police officers detained Holz at 8:31 p.m., but reported no symptoms of impairment. However, at 8:55 p.m., other officers could smell alcohol on the man.

He was arrested at 9 p.m. for impaired driving, and a demand for a breathalyzer test was made five minutes later.

It took three to four hours before police gave Holz a breathalyzer. By the time he gave the breath samples, Holz's blood-alcohol level did not exceed the legal limit.

Two police officers involved in the investigation into Severight's death were placed on administrative leave 10 days after the collision, but the IIU later cleared them of criminal wrongdoing.

Holz testified during a parole hearing that he didn't know why there was a delay, "and maintained [he] recognized there was no point in trying to delay the test," the decision says. "You indicated some police officers may have been disciplined for the delay but you had no part in requesting a delay."

Holz has been on parole since April 2020

A Manitoba judge sentenced Holz to 2½ years in prison on Oct. 30, 2019, after he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death.

Originally, he had also been charged with impaired driving causing death, fleeing the scene of a crash, dangerous driving and driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. However, those charges were stayed after Holz's lawyers negotiated a plea deal with the Crown.

On April 15, 2020, the Parole Board of Canada granted day and full parole for Holz when he became eligible.

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He was eligible for day parole on April 30, 2020, and full parole on Aug. 29, 2020, said a spokesperson from the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).

The parole board reviewed the facts surrounding Severight's death, the court proceedings, Holz's background and criminal history and the impact on the victims. They also considered a CSC assessment that labelled Holz as a "low level of risk to reoffend," the decision says.

The board also noted that Holz accepted responsibility for his actions.

"The Board has considered the relevant factors in your case and finds that your limited criminal history, your low risk to reoffend, your compliance in the community, your sobriety and your release plan are sufficient for the Board to conclude that you will not present an undue risk to society if released on day or full parole," the decisions says.

"The Board also finds that your release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating your reintegration into society as a law–abiding citizen."

Holz was granted parole with the condition that he not consume, buy or possess alcohol, the decision says.

"Your use of alcohol prior to the offence impaired your judgment and limited your ability to safely operate your motor vehicle. Abstaining from alcohol is an important risk management strategy that will reduce your risk to re-offend," it says.

The special condition will be in place for the rest of Holz's sentence, "or until modified or removed by a future Board."

Holz's sentence is scheduled to end April 29, 2022, the CSC spokesperson said. But a statutory release date is set for June 29 of this year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC News. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. Prior to joining the CBC, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email him at nick.frew@cbc.ca

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