Nfld. & Labrador

Officer testifies he smelled, saw alcohol at site of crash that killed Southern Harbour man

The trial of Travis Firmage, accused of impaired driving causing death of Calvin Tobin, started Monday in Clarenville provincial court.

Trial starts for Travis Firmage, accused of impaired driving causing death of Calvin Tobin

Travis Firmage, in Clarenville provincial court on Monday, is accused of impaired driving causing death in connection with the death of fisherman Calvin Tobin in 2017. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A police witness says he smelled and saw alcohol in a car driven by Travis Firmage, accused of impaired driving causing death in a crash that killed a Southern Harbour fisherman.

Const. Roy Chappel of the Clarenville RCMP detachment testified Monday morning on the first day of hearings for Firmage's trial for the August 2017 crash, which killed Calvin Tobin.

Chappel told a judge in Clarenville provincial court that he was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the crash. He said he could smell alcohol coming from Firmage as Firmage was seated in his vehicle.

Const. Roy Chappel, left, speaks with Crown prosecutor Alison Manning during a break in the hearing in Clarenville on Monday. Chappel was the crown's first witness in Firmage's trial. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The officer also testified he saw a broken beer bottle and a box of beer bottles in the vehicle immediately after the crash, before the occupants were taken to hospital in Clarenville. 

Firmage, 33, is charged with impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm. He has pleaded not guilty.

Police have said he was driving a car that crossed into an opposing lane of traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway and struck a tractor trailer. The driver of that tractor-trailer is set to testify in court on Tuesday morning.

Firmage sits in court ahead of testimony from an RCMP officer about the crash. Tobin was a passenger in Firmage's car. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Firmage's lawyer, Jenny Reid, has not finished her cross-examination of Chappel or called any witnesses for the defence. Chappel was the first witness to be called at trial, which is not expected to finish this week.

The hearing began shortly after Judge Paul Noble denied an application by Firmage's lawyer to have blood evidence excluded from the hearings. Reid argued in a written application that staff at the hospital in Clarenville breached her client's charter rights by taking blood for police without a warrant.

The judge's reasons for denying that application, as well as arguments made about the application in court, are covered by a publication ban.

Chappel's testimony covered his interactions with Firmage at the crash scene, as well as observations he made about Tobin at the site. He said the vehicle the pair were travelling in was "utterly destroyed" as a result of the crash.

He also spoke about his role in securing the scene of the crash and serving a warrant to obtain a sample of Firmage's blood.

Just before the end of Monday's hearing, Chappel testified that the Clarenville RCMP detachment no longer has Firmage's blood sample in its possession. He will continue his testimony on Tuesday morning.

Tobin, 25, died in the hours following the Aug. 1, 2017, crash. (Submitted)

Tobin, 25, was a passenger in Firmage's vehicle when the crash occurred. He was injured in the accident, and died in hospital the following day.

His death sparked a battle between the Tobin family and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union about the payment of insurance benefits to the Tobin family.

The fisheries union initially told the family that no insurance payment would be made, as Tobin's policy had expired one day before his death. The union later apologized and admitted to error.

Tobin's uncle said after his nephew's death that although he could be mischievous, he was "liked by everyone."

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

Chappel testified Monday that the crash scene indicated Tobin was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision.

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About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.