Conviction, sentence upheld for OPP officer who crashed doing 178 km/h
Const. Jamie Porto was given a 1-year driving ban and fined $2,500
A police officer who crashed after driving at 178 kilometres an hour in a 50 zone while responding to an emergency had his dangerous driving conviction and licence suspension upheld on Friday.
In its ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected a challenge from provincial police Const. Jamie Porto, who argued his trial judge had made several errors in finding him guilty.
"The appellant's excessive speed in and of itself amounted to a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonable police officer," the Appeal Court said in its decision. "It was open to the trial judge to reach this conclusion."
According to court records, Porto was responding to an emergency call on an afternoon in October 2014 after a crash. Court records show he sped through the village of St. Joachim, east of Windsor, with its posted speed limit of 50 km/h at a speed of 178 km/h.
Porto passed a construction zone and a school before crashing into a vehicle going in the same direction that was making a left turn. The crash occurred as Porto tried to pass the vehicle driven by Ryan Coombes on the left, court records show.
Coombes was left with cracked ribs and a concussion, while a pedestrian and her daughters not far from Coombes' spinning vehicle were able to walk away unhurt. A gas station nearby was extensively damaged.
At trial, the officer admitted his speeding amounted to driving in a manner dangerous to the public and that his driving had resulted in bodily harm. The issue for the judge to decide was whether Porto's driving had shown a "marked departure" from what was reasonable in the circumstances.
In December 2016, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas convicted the 34-year-old officer of dangerous driving causing bodily harm to Coombes. He ordered Porto to pay a fine of $2,500 and barred him from driving for a year.
"I am reminded that this officer was responding to a potential life-threatening call," Thomas said in nevertheless finding Porto's driving was unreasonable. "(But) Const. Porto should have foreseen the danger posed by Mr. Coombes's vehicle."
Thomas concluded that the constable, a 10-year officer with two children, should have reduced his speed dramatically and stayed in his lane until he was sure of what move Coombes was planning. The failure to do so and the attempt to pass Coombes at the intersection in the middle of the village at high speed was not reasonable, the judge found.
Appellant had virtually no time to react
In upholding the conviction, the Appeal Court rejected Porto's argument that Thomas had put too much emphasis on speed.
"Given that the trial judge concluded that speed alone amounted to a marked departure, it is difficult to see how he could over-emphasize this factor," the Appeal Court said. "At 178 km/h, the appellant had virtually no time to react to emergencies or foreseeable conduct by other drivers."
The higher court also rejected arguments to substitute a discharge for the fine and driving ban based on fresh evidence — essentially that Porto is considered a "conscientious and able" officer respected by his superiors and peers.
"That same evidence was before the trial judge and it provides no basis upon which this court could interfere with the sentence he imposed," the Appeal Court said.