Crash survivor relieved to see Nicholas Villeneuve heading back to trial

After a long process, Josh Whiteway feels he'll finally have a chance at justice as the alleged drunk driver who hit him has been ordered to stand trial.

Josh Whiteway says he couldn't accept alleged drunk driver's acquittal in 2021

A young man with short brown hair and a medium length brown beard.
Josh Whiteway was severely injured after a truck crashed into the SUV he was travelling in. He is partially paralyzed, and uses a wheelchair for mobility. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Josh Whiteway is once again hopeful there will be consequences for the alleged drunk driver who caused him so much pain and loss.

The 31-year-old from Lewisporte was heartened to hear the news from the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal on Wednesday, ordering Nicholas Villeneuve to stand trial for eight charges, including two counts of impaired driving causing death.

"It's obviously good news and it's a step in the right direction," Whiteway told CBC News on Wednesday.

Whiteway was en route to the airport on July 7, 2019, along with his then-girlfriend Suzanne Lush and her parents, John and Sandra Lush.

Police believe Villeneuve was drunk, on his way home from a music festival, when he crashed his truck into the SUV and killed John and Sandra Lush. Whiteway was left partially paralyzed, while Suzanne Lush suffered eight broken ribs, as well as broken bones in her sternum, wrist and foot.

Despite her injuries, she managed to help Whiteway to safety as the vehicle burned.

Appeal court finds errors by judge

Villeneuve provided blood samples to police and hospital staff, but all the evidence in the case was ruled inadmissible after his lawyer filed a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At issue in the case was when exactly Villeneuve had been detained by police, and whether or not the officer had read him his rights in a timely manner. The provincial court judge ruled everything collected — blood samples, phone records and information from his vehicle — was obtained improperly because Villeneuve was detained without being told he could speak with a lawyer.

A younger man with cropped brown hair puts his arm in a black puffer jacket.
Nicholas Villeneuve leaves a courtroom in Gander after being acquitted in February 2021. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Three judges with the court of appeal now say the provincial court judge made serious factual errors in assessing Villeneuve's detainment.

The case has been sent back to the provincial court where he will stand trial.

"It means that at last, there's some sense made of all of this," Whiteway said. "Nothing is set in stone or anything yet, but it means a lot for all of us to finally see the three judges get together and to agree that this was mishandled and that it deserves to go back to trial. It's a good day for everybody."

Whiteway, who uses a wheelchair, said it's hard to keep the events of that night out of his mind. He was an engineer in Calgary before the crash, with his entire life and career ahead of him. He moved home to Lewisporte afterwards, to be closer to family as he worked toward recovery.

"It's been tough. You try not to think about it every day and night but it creeps into your thoughts frequently," he said, noting it was harder after Villeneuve's charges were dropped in 2021. 

"It's been hard to accept that that's the way it was going to be. And I think we haven't accepted it."

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