Tobin's son not seeking favour in sentencing

The lawyer for Jack Tobin — the son of former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Tobin — tells an Ottawa court his client is not asking for special treatment in his criminal case because of his high-profile father.

Victim was pinned under a truck in Ottawa parking garage

The lawyer for Jack Tobin — the son of former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Tobin — told an Ottawa court on Thursday that his client was not asking for special treatment because of his high-profile father.

Emma Roberts said outside an Ottawa courtroom the death of her boyfriend Alex Zolpis was preventable. (CBC)

John (Jack) Tobin was charged with impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death after his friend Alex Zolpis, 24, was pinned under a truck and died in a downtown Ottawa parking garage in the early morning of Christmas Eve last year.

Tobin pleaded guilty in May to impaired driving causing death, while the charge of dangerous driving causing death was dropped.

"I'm not asking for special treatment for [Jack] Tobin… but I am asking that he not be treated worse," lawyer Norm Boxall said.

The case has seen widespread coverage in which Boxall attributed more to Tobin's prominent father than to the case itself. Tobin arrived at the courthouse accompanied by his father and mother. All refused to speak with reporters. 

Tobin's sentencing hearing began with victim impact statements from Zolpis's family. "We are living every parent's worst nightmare," Zolpis's mother, Susan Morgan, said in a prepared statement.

Zolpis's sister Meaghan said she idolized her big brother and said she remains tortured that she missed a call from him just before he died.

"Young people do not take drinking and driving seriously, and this must change," she said.

Zolpis's girlfriend, Emma Roberts, who noted the couple planned to marry, said the incident destroyed her.

"It could have been prevented if the law was not broken," she said.

Zolpis's family had called the death an accident not long after it had happened, but neither his mother nor his sister asked for leniency in their statements Thursday.

Defence lawyer Boxall called it "a difficult and tragic case" with an immeasurable loss. He said his client "has and does accept responsibility" for Zolpis's death.

He also noted that Tobin will have to deal with the stigma long after a sentence is served. "He'll be known as the young man who killed his friend," Boxall said.

Boxall repeated his request for a sentence of between 18 to 30 months in prison and a five-year driving ban, while the Crown is seeking a minimum five years in prison and a 10-year-driving ban.

Crown attorney Mark Moors said Tobin's "moral blameworthiness is high on the scale" and pointed to Tobin's previous record of a string of driving offences, which include three driving suspensions.

Tobin's statement deferred

Tobin was expected to give a statement during the hearing in which he would reportedly speak about the dangers of impaired driving, but that was delayed until sometime Friday.

The charge carries with it the likelihood of jail time, but it is rare to see sentences longer than six years, according to David M. Paciocco, a former prosecutor who now teaches criminal law at the University of Ottawa. 

"The fact that Jack Tobin killed his best friend is a relative factor in determining the appropriate sentence," Paciocco said. "He's obviously been terribly traumatized by the event."

According to the agreed statement of facts, Tobin, Zolpis and a group of friends were drinking at a pub in Ottawa's Byward Market when they walked to the multi-level parking garage and drove the truck to the top level.

Seven friends were sitting in the pickup, drinking and listening to music, when Tobin began spinning the truck in 180-degree turns, witnesses said. By the time the truck stopped, Zolpis was pinned underneath it, as was another man, who was treated for injuries.

Prosecutors said it was unclear from the witness statements how Zolpis ended up outside the vehicle or under it.