OPP Sergeant Roger Woods pleaded guilty to careless driving in provincial offences court here on Monday, abruptly ending a trial surrounding a 2011 accident that killed a horse and caused severe injuries to a Mennonite buggy driver.
As part of the sentencing handed down by justice of the peace Anna Hampson on March 25, Woods was placed on 18 months’ probation, ordered to complete 24 hours of community service and fined $500 – but he did not have his licence suspended.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” Woods told the court prior to sentencing. “I wish it hadn’t come this far.”
The OPP officer, who has 31 years on the force, declined to comment after sentencing was handed down.
Hampson acknowledged Woods’ actions immediately following the accident at around 8am on Nov. 14, 2011 on Sligo Road near Wellington Heights Secondary School.
Buggy driver Onias Frey “sustained significant life threatening injuries” and the justice credited Woods with calling 911 immediately after his 2011 Ford Edge SUV struck the buggy and ensuring the victim was not moved until emergency personnel arrived.
The justice said Woods “was travelling too fast.” That acknowledgement was based on testimony from OPP accident investigators at the four-day trial held in December (before the case was adjourned and eventually restarted on March 25).
The officer originally pleaded not guilty to the charge, opting for the Crown to prove its case, said Scott Thibaudeau, Woods’ paralegal.
Thibaudeau said his client entered a guilty plea after hearing earlier evidence and coming to the conclusion the Crown had proven its case.
“My client has accepted his responsibility,” Thibaudeau said. “He never tried to blame anyone else.”
Frey, in his victim impact statement, said he harbours no resentment toward Woods. He added Woods has assisted his family through the lengthy recovery process.
Frey’s injuries included 13 or 14 broken ribs, a crushed collar bone and removal of his spleen. He spent several days in a coma in a Hamilton hospital and was eventually released from hospital on Dec. 19, 2011.
Court was told Woods’ insurance paid for the cost of replacing the buggy and horse and has provided a “generous allowance,” for Frey’s rehabilitation.
“My client assisted at every stage,” Thibaudeau told the court on Monday.
The guilty plea came after about two hours of closed discussions between Thibaudeau, Crown attorney Robert Butler and the justice.
Butler said the charge carries a maximum fine of $2,000 and maximum licence suspension of two years. He asked for a fine of $1,000 and suggested probation be applied instead of a suspension.
The Crown also asked Hampson to consider an order that the fine be donated to a local charity, a suggestion the justice did not take.
Thibaudeau said a licence suspension would mean Woods could not assist Frey with driving to future appointments. He added the accident has strengthened the relationship between Woods and the Freys.
Thibaudeau told the court the accident was the result of Woods temporarily being distracted when he went to make an adjustment to a dial on the dash of his new SUV.
Hampson said Woods, at the time, did not use a “reasonable amount of skill prior to the accident.”
Butler said the Crown is satisfied with the verdict.
“I think the way the accused acted in the aftermath of a major accident is certainly an admirable way to act in the face of what he’s charged with,” Butler said. “He immediately rendered assistance.”