Justice puts gag order on part of testimony in Woods trial

The trial of an off-duty OPP officer charged with careless driving was adjourned until Jan. 14 with justice of the peace Anna Hampson putting a gag order on testimony heard on Dec. 13, the fourth day of the trial.

Hampson made her ruling after a voir dire, a trial within a trial, heard testimony from crash scene reconstructionist OPP Constable Susan Blacklock.

She was called to testify by Crown attorney Robert Butler who has alleged the Nov. 14, 2011 accident was avoidable and that speed was a factor in the crash that injured a Mennonite buggy driver and killed his horse.

The justice said she reserved the right to ban publication of evidence presented on the final day of testimony before the adjournment, pending her ruling on whether the evidence will be admissible when the trial resumes in provincial offences court.

OPP Sergeant Roger Woods faces a careless driving charge in connection with the early morning accident that severely injured farmer Onias Frey, 61, who spent five weeks in hospital in Mount Forest and Hamilton being treated for his injuries and is continuing his recovery.

In earlier testimony, OPP crash scene expert Staff Sgt. Paul Nixon said speed was a factor in the crash on Sligo Road in front of Wellington Heights Secondary School in Mount Forest.

Butler told reporters from the Advertiser and Guelph Mercury he was disappointed by Hampson’s ruling to ban publication of evidence from the fourth day of the trial.

Paralegal Scott Thibaudeau, representing Woods, indicated he is challenging the way information from the black box in Woods’ Ford SUV was collected by police.  

The paralegal also questioned testimony from accident scene witness pastor Harry Engel, who claimed to be able to identify the driver of the SUV. Engel said he was taking his dog for a walk on a nearby street when he heard the crash.

“There was that sick feeling you get because I realized what had happened,” Engel said.

When he arrived at the scene, the pastor said he saw Woods assisting the victim.

On the first day the trial also heard from Frey and two of his relatives. Frey told the court he remembers nothing from the day of the accident. He said he suffered “13 or 14 broken ribs, crushed collar bone (and had his) spleen removed.

“I’m not fully recovered yet,” he told the court. “I haven’t got my strength back.”

Frey said his memory is “coming back” since the accident and after he was released from hospital on Dec. 19, 2011.

Frey believes, based on what Woods told him after the accident, that Woods’ vehicle “caught my back wheel” causing the accident.

The victim said he harbours no resentment towards Woods. He added Woods has assisted his family during recovery. Woods’ insurance has paid many of his bills in the months the Mennonite has been recovering.

“I have got nothing against him because I don’t know why I should,” Frey said. “If it helps a person to do better then it takes away a bad thing.”

Peter Frey, the victim’s nephew, was the first on the scene of the accident and testified he found Woods assisting his uncle in the ditch and making a cell phone believed to be a 911 call.

Thibaudeau questioned the younger Frey about his recollection of the scene when he arrived to find the buggy damaged and his uncle in the ditch unconscious

The younger Frey said he was certain Woods was the driver of the SUV.

The victim’s younger brother Levi also testified about the assistance Woods offered while his older brother was in hospital. However, he added, the accident has aged his brother  “10 to 15 years and some of his idiosyncrasies are more pronounced.”

Levi Frey said he met Woods after the accident.

“He said, ‘It was all my fault, your brother did nothing wrong,’” Levi testified. “He also said it was a pretty bad day for him.”

Frey added he has “high respect for Mr. Woods, his integrity. I consider him an honest person.”

Butler has indicated Woods may have been travelling faster than the 50km/h zone posted on Sligo Road.

The court also heard from an employee of Streamline Auto Body Ltd. in Mount Forest where the SUV was impounded after being removed from the scene.

Kyle Woods (no relation) said the vehicle was put in a locked container when it was brought to the company’s facility in the north end industrial park.

Thibaudeau, as part of his challenge about the warrant, has indicated he might question the fact the warrant contained the old address of Streamline and not the company’s current address where the vehicle was taken.

The paralegal has also questioned the validity of speed signs posted along the route and whether they are official, provincially-designated signs. He has also stated the zone at the high school was not posted as a “school zone.”

Evidence has shown road and weather conditions did not play a factor in the accident,  according to police officers.

Thibaudeau has had some heated exchanges with Hampson and Butler over the  admissibility of some of the evidence and had indicated in applications to the court areas of concern he is expected raise.

“Clarity would be a lovely thing,” Butler said following an exchange about what the paralegal believes should be excluded.

“Whenever there is a challenge on evidence the onus is on you to raise it,” the justice told Thibaudeau.

Woods was off-duty at the time of the crash. He was officially charged three months after the incident. The OPP released Woods’ name only after repeated requests from the Advertiser.

The trial is expected to last another five days when it resumes in January.