Nova Scotia

Crash victim's mother says police should have used breathalyzer on driver

Cape Breton Regional Police say officers at the scene of a fatal crash last weekend found no evidence the person behind the wheel of a vehicle that struck and killed Joneil Hanna was impaired.

Joneil Hanna, 17, died Sunday after leaving a huge house party near Sydney

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

Police officers who found a young man hit and killed by a vehicle after a weekend party didn't think they had grounds to give the driver a breathalyzer, Cape Breton Regional Police said Wednesday. 

Joneil Hanna, 17, of North Sydney, N.S., was hit around 3:30 a.m. Sunday on Highway 223 in Leitches Creek. He was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Staff Sgt. Bill Turner said officers spoke to the driver at the scene of the crash and decided he was not drunk or impaired by drugs. "Several officers spoke to the young person," he told reporters Wednesday.

He spoke as Jennifer Hanna, Joneil's mother, said police should have further tested the driver's sobriety. 

Jennifer Hanna wants someone held responsible for her son's death. (CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Police said they were called to the party at a home in Leitches Creek twice Sunday — once at 1 a.m. and again at 3 a.m. — over concerns there were a large number of people drinking and there was a potential for fights and impaired driving.

Police arrested two people, one for public intoxication and the other for impaired driving. Officers stayed in the roadway near the house as party-goers dispersed to ensure no one was drinking and driving.

At around the same time, they received a call that someone had been struck along Highway 223, approximately two kilometres away.

'Several hundred' people at grad party

Turner said police think the driver had been at the party and had picked up a few people. Turner said police had no evidence the driver was impaired. "People can consume alcohol and not be impaired," Turner said.

He said officers decided not to do any other sobriety tests on the driver. Officers seized the man's vehicle.

Jennifer Hanna said her son had attended the large outdoor graduation party near where he died.

Turner said officers were watching the party of "several hundred young persons" in a very dark area. He said it wouldn't have been safe to break up the party — for officers or for party-goers.

Hundreds of young people camped out for the graduation party. (CBC)

He didn't know if Hanna was intoxicated, but hopes to learn that from the medical examiner. He said police think Hanna was on the road when he was hit, but don't yet know if he was in the middle or on the side. 

Turner said he knew that Hanna's phone had apparently pocket-dialled a friend at the time of the crash, and that reportedly included audio of the crash's aftermath. 

Voice message captured moments after crash

Jennifer Hanna has serious questions about how police are handling the death of her son. She has heard her son's voice message.

"It's a hectic scene. You hear everybody hollering to Joneil. They're trying to do CPR and calling 911," she said. "It breaks my heart all over again."

Joneil Hanna died on this stretch of road. (CBC)

She thinks police should have done a breathalyzer on the driver.

Halifax criminal defence lawyer Godfred Chongatera said the grounds for using a breathalyzer are the same across Canada.

"They have to have reasonable and probable grounds to say that we think this person was impaired at the time he drove, therefore, we will conduct a roadside screening test to find out whether that person will pass or fail," he said.

Chongatera said those grounds would include smelling alcohol on the driver, or seeing the driver had glassy eyes or slurred speech.

"If they don't see those things, then it may be difficult for them to go ahead and ask for a breathalyzer test," he said. "If they don't have those grounds, they may be violating the person's charter rights."

Justice minister has 'complete confidence' in CBRP

Justice Minister Mark Furey said he has complete confidence in how Cape Breton police are handling the death. (CBC)

Mark Furey, the justice minister for the province and a former RCMP officer, said he has "complete confidence" in the Cape Breton Regional Police Service.

"They were very aware of the circumstances of that event that evening: the social event, the party. They provided the close monitoring, literally roadside," Furey said Wednesday. "They didn't go on to the private property but in close proximity to the property, interacting with the youth and others who were there."

Furey wouldn't comment on whether he thinks police should have broken up the party. He said officers believed they had the party under control and said the accident happened far from the party.

Read more stories from CBC Nova Scotia 

with files from Gary Mansfield and Jean Laroche