Nfld. & Labrador

'My darling boy did not kill himself': Testimony gets heated during fatal drunk driving trial

The aunt of a deceased fisherman pushed back at suggestions he was depressed or expressed suicidal thoughts in her testimony at the trial of the man charged in connection to his death.

CarolAnn Brewer denied her nephew was suicidal, or had alcohol problems

CarolAnn Brewer sits in the witness box ahead of her testimony in the trial of Travis Firmage, who is accused of drunk driving causing death in connection to the death of Calvin Tobin. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The aunt of Calvin Tobin defended her nephew Tuesday in emotional and combative testimony at the trial for the man accused of causing his death in a drunk driving crash.

CarolAnn Brewer, who said she helped her parents care for the Southern Harbour fisherman since he was an infant, pushed back hard against suggestions that Tobin struggled with alcohol or drug addiction and was depressed. He was 25 when he died. 

Under cross-examination from defence lawyer Jenny Reid, she denied both of those suggestions, and also denied Tobin had ever expressed suicidal thoughts to her or anyone else.

A transport truck and a car collided on the Trans-Canada Highway outside Clarenville late on Aug. 1. (Lee Pitts/CBC)

Brewer spoke Tuesday afternoon, a witness for Crown lawyer Alison Manning in the trial of Travis Firmage, 33, who is charged in connection with Tobin's death.

Police say Firmage was drunk at the time of a collision between his car and a tractor trailer near Clarenville on Aug. 1, 2017. RCMP have charged him with impaired driving causing death, and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

Tuesday afternoon's cross examination appeared to be a preview of the case Firmage's lawyer — who has not yet called any witnesses herself — will present at trial. Firmage has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

"I'm going to suggest to you that Calvin struggled with both alcohol and depression," Reid told Brewer at one point during the tense exchange.

"You don't know that," Brewer replied.

Police say Calvin Tobin, 25, was a passenger in the vehicle driven by Firmage at the time of the crash. (Submitted)

Brewer testified that she saw Tobin four to six times a month, and spoke with him on the phone several times a week. She told the court she would know if Tobin had been struggling, because they were close.

Brewer said her parents raised Tobin until he was 25, and she helped as much as she could.

She also responded to questions about her contact with Tobin and Firmage the day of the incident.

"You can say what you like and they can tell you what they like, I know if my nephew was drunk or not," she said. "I've seen him in more than one state. So no."

"And my darling boy did not kill himself."

Testimony also discussed three phone calls that Brewer made to Firmage's phone in the hours before the crash, when Tobin was travelling with Firmage in a vehicle.

Brewer testified that her daughter had asked for help because she had a flat tire at a gas station in Goobies, and she called Firmage — who is in a relationship with her daughter — to try to get them to pick her up.

Tobin loved fishing and quit school to go to sea at the age of 15. (Calvin Tobin/Facebook)

She testified that both Firmage's and Tobin's voice became more and more incoherent during a series of calls.

Brewer said the next call she received was around 2:41 a.m. the following day, when she was called into the hospital to see her nephew.

She fought back tears when she discussed not being able to hold her nephew's hand, as it was too swollen to touch, and having to decide with her family to remove him from life support.

'Game of chicken'

A witness to the crash testified Tuesday morning that the car headed directly toward an oncoming tractor trailer moments before the collision on the highway, almost as if occupants were playing a "game of chicken."

Anthony Rose testified Tuesday morning to start the second day of hearings for the trial.

Rose told the court that Firmage's car passed him on the highway, and then crossed into the opposing lane of traffic for a number of seconds before colliding with the tractor-trailer.

Under cross-examination from Firmage's lawyer, Rose said the car travelled in the opposite lane for five to six seconds. He then changed his mind, and estimated the time as seven to 10 seconds.

Travis Firmage sits in court during his trial, which continues this week in Clarenville. Firmage is accused of impaired driving causing death. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Reid suggested to the witness that it was difficult to estimate seconds when you are anticipating a collision, like Rose was.

Rose said the vehicle was heading straight toward the trailer "like a game of chicken," and testified he had no recollection of seeing Firmage's vehicle braking. He said the car adjusted course only moments before it collided with the passenger side of the tractor trailer, swerving into the other lane of traffic just as the tractor-trailer did the same.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, Earl Cooper, also testified Tuesday morning,

Earl Cooper, left, testified that he was driving the transport truck that was struck on Aug. 1, 2017. He told the court he has been a truck driver for 35 years. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

He said he first spotted the oncoming car that struck him about half a kilometre ahead on the highway, when it was travelling toward his vehicle.

Cooper said he could not see inside the vehicle and could not see the driver any other occupants.

He testified that he flashed his vehicle's headlights and used his horn, but the driver of the opposing car did not respond. When the vehicle didn't respond, said Cooper, he braked and attempted to swerve into the other lane to avoid a collision, but the car hit the right side of his vehicle.

He said he could not estimate what the speed of the car was, but said his own speed was between 90 and 95 km/h when he first spotted the car.

He told the court about the shoulder and neck injuries he sustained as a result of the crash, and about his rehabilitation and treatment — which included, at some stretches, three visits a week to a physiotherapist.

He also testified he used sleeping pills and painkillers at times during his recovery. According to his testimony today, he has also joined a lawsuit against Firmage in civil court, seeking damages.

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About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.