Nova Scotia

Cape Breton officer tells hearing driver was OK to leave scene of fatal collision

A senior officer with Cape Breton Regional Police says there was no issue with police allowing the driver to leave the scene where Joneil Hanna was struck and killed by a car in 2018. Wednesday marked the third day of a hearing into how officers handled the young man's death.

Sgt. Erin Donovan described 'chaotic' scene at graduation party near site of Joneil Hanna's death

Joneil Hanna is shown with his baby daughter. (Gofundme)

A senior officer with Cape Breton Regional Police told a hearing Wednesday there was no issue with the driver leaving the scene of a fatal collision in 2018.

The police review board is looking into the investigation of 17-year-old Joneil Hanna's death. He was struck on a rural highway after leaving a graduation party.

Hanna's father has complained that police should have done more to investigate, or possibly prevent, his son's death.

On day three, the review panel heard from Sgt. Erin Donovan, the officer in charge that night. She described seeing a large, out-of-control party in Leitches Creek.

She said she initially advised the property owners to shut down the party, which she classified as having lots of underage drinking. Donovan described the scene as including a large, white party tent that featured a disco ball and sound equipment. 

The scene was described as "chaotic" with partygoers on the country roadway.

Donovan said she had asked people to dump their alcohol as they left the party and many attendees were heavily intoxicated. In one instance, she recalled seeing a young girl being brought away from the party in a wheelbarrow for her mother to pick her up.

When asked about the number of people at the graduation party, Donovan said she had never encountered a scene that large before.

Joneil Hanna's family wearing 'Justice for Joneil' hats and masks. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

The hearing panel asked how the scene of Joneil Hanna's death was handled when officers first arrived.

Donovan explained that she initially engaged in life-saving measures for Hanna, with other officers talking to witnesses and trying to control the scene.

After Hanna was taken away by EHS, Donovan said a fellow officer, Cpl. Steve Sibley, said he had spoken with the driver, Hayden Laffin, about what he saw.

Laffin told police that night that he saw Hanna walk into the middle of the road and collapse before the car reached him. The 21-year-old Laffin was released from the scene.

Hanna's parents have questioned why Laffin was allowed to leave when there were reports he might have been drinking at the graduation party.

Donovan said the officer who let Laffin leave the scene after the fatal collision was "OK to do so" without asking the sergeant's permission.

Donovan also spoke about the limited manpower on the scene when lawyers asked why assistance wasn't requested from RCMP members in nearby Eskasoni.

She explained this was not normal procedure and not something she has done on the scene of an incident like this before.

Donovan said the situation was less than ideal due to the chaotic nature of the evening.

The hearing continues Thursday.