Nfld. & Labrador

Driver guilty in drunk driving crash that killed his passenger near Clarenville

The family of Calvin Tobin, who died in the 2017 collision, welcomed Wednesday's conviction of Travis Firmage.

'He's missed beyond measure,' says family of crash victim Calvin Tobin

Travis Firmage, seen here in 2019, has been convicted of all four charges he faced in relation to the car crash on Aug. 1 2017. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The driver of a car that crashed near Clarenville and killed his passenger in 2017 has been found guilty of all four charges against him, including operating a motor vehicle while impaired and causing death — a verdict the victim's family welcomed with tearful relief. 

The decision in Travis Firmage's case was delivered in Clarenville provincial court Wednesday morning. Firmage contested the charges in 2018, pleading not guilty in a move that stunned the family of the crash's victim, Calvin Tobin, a 25-year-old fisherman from Southern Harbour.

"He's missed beyond measure, and loved every day that he's not here," said Tobin's aunt CarolAnn Brewer, amid tears outside the courthouse. 

Brewer blasted the 3½-year legal process that led to Wednesday's decision, saying it put her family through "agony," but when it came to explaining the depth of her grief, she was at a loss. 

"There's no words that I can put my emotions in, what this has done to me and my family. There's just no words. He meant everything to us," she said.

Calvin Tobin, 25, died in the hours following the crash. Judge Paul Noble rejected suggestions that Tobin was suicidal and grabbed the steering wheel. (Submitted)

Brewer helped raise Tobin, and by her count sat through 36 court dates for the case, which included Firmage taking the stand and denying he was impaired at the time of the crash on the night of Aug. 1, 2017.

He testified that in the moments proceeding it, Tobin had grabbed control of the steering wheel and caused the Hyundai Sonata they were in to swerve across the centre line of the Trans-Canada Highway and into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer.

Judge Paul Noble's decision, however, took into account testimony from witnesses to the crash — both the driver of the tractor trailer, as well the driver of another car that witnessed the event — accounts that Noble said didn't support Firmage's version of events.

Although Noble noted "we may never know" what happened inside the car in the seconds before the crash, his judgment took into account the witnesses who said there was no external signs of a steering wheel struggle within the Sonata, such as Firmage attempting to brake or the car swerving back and forth.

CarolAnn Brewer says the legal process that led to Wednesday's decision put her family through agony. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Additionally, Noble accepted evidence and testimony that showed Firmage's blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit at the time of the crash, a fact the defence had disputed during trial.

"As for Mr. Firmage's credibility there is good reason to express skepticism," Noble wrote in his decision.

Noble pointed to Firmage's "poor judgment," as Firmage himself had admitted to drinking six beers over the course of the day and evening, including a Bud Light while behind the wheel of the car 15 minutes before the crash.

"He did not seem to have any reservations about drinking while driving, acknowledging that both he and his passenger did so," Noble wrote.

'He didn't want to die'

Firmage and his girlfriend at the time, Nicole Brewer — Tobin's cousin — had both testified to Tobin's mental state the day of the crash. Brewer said Tobin was upset and "went hysterical" that a family gathering had been cancelled.

Brewer had also testified Tobin had confided in her about mental stress and potential suicidal thoughts a year prior.

CarolAnn Brewer, who helped raise him, testified she was close to him and had no concerns about his mental health. She maintained both on the stand, and after Wednesday's decision, Tobin had no intentions to kill himself.

"If there was one thing that he could say today, he would tell us that he did not want to die," she told CBC News.

This is the site of the crash, where Tobin, right, sustained injuries he died from in hospital the next day. (Lee Pitts/CBC/Submitted)

Judge Noble agreed.

"The evidence presented as regards Mr Tobin's mental health was scant and anecdotal. The evidence that he was in fact suicidal on August 1, 2017, is precarious at best," Noble wrote in his decision, noting that Tobin was not being treated for any mental health concerns, nor did it appear he was taking medication for it.

Tobin was a "kind-hearted soul," said CarolAnn Brewer, and generous to friends, family and neighbours. 

"He lived every day to the fullest, and he often said to me and his pop, that he lived every day like it was gonna be his last, [because] you're not promised tomorrow," she said.

Firmage is set to be sentenced in late April. His aunt said she isn't sure what she'll do after the case concludes, having devoted years of her life to it, and must soon continue on with a life without her nephew in it.

"No matter how much time the judge gives now will never bring our boy back," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Garrett Barry