Matthew Wilson died in April 2021 incident on Lakeshore Road
A Niagara-on-the-Lake man has been convicted of failing to report an accident that killed a 40-year-old pedestrian.
Robert Enns, 55, was found guilty last Friday in Welland provincial offences court and fined $500. He also was sentenced to nine months of probation.
Justice of the Peace Mary Shelley ruled that Enns did not do enough to determine the seriousness of the crash nor whether he had struck a person.
Matthew Wilson’s body was found in the southside ditch the next morning.
“Was Mr. Enns diligent in the actions he took? I don’t think so,” Shelley told the court in finding him guilty.
“He would have been diligent if he had done a more thorough examination of the damage that night” and then quickly reported the crash, she said.
Wilson, also from Niagara-on-the-Lake, died after he was struck by Enns’ pickup truck on Lakeshore Road east of Stewart Road just after 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 4, 2021.
After a lengthy investigation by Niagara Regional Police, Enns did not face any criminal charges in Wilson’s death, only the relatively minor charge of failing to report an accident.
He called police the morning after the incident, when he realized the damage to his truck was extensive and when he heard police had closed Lakeshore to investigate a fatality, Enns told the court at his trial in October.
Enns testified he thought he had hit a deer in the late-night collision, though he also admitted he thought it could have been a person.
He was not in court for Friday’s ruling and was represented by his lawyer, Vijai Singh.
Shelley rejected Enns’ contention that he had done enough to determine if he had hit a person or to assess the amount of damage caused to his truck.
At the time of the fatal crash, any accident involving damage of $2,000 or more had to be reported “forthwith” to police. Whether Enns had done so “forthwith” was a point of contention during his trial.
Enns testified he thought there was about $1,500 in damage, though the repairs ended up costing more than $10,000.
The law has now been changed to require an accident in which there is at least $2,000 in damage or personal injury be reported to police “immediately.”
The maximum fine for failing to report is $1,000 and Crown prosecutor Henry Limheng sought a penalty of $400 to $600, plus 12 months of probation.
“Mr. Enns failed in his duty” to report the crash “forthwith,” as the law at the time required, Limheng said.
While Enns’ driving record shows convictions for some minor offences such as speeding, the prosecutor told the court Enns needs “a reminder that there are rules.”
“Driving is a privilege and a privilege comes with obligations,” he said.
“His lack of compliance led to tragic results,” Limheng said in arguing for the probation order. “Minutes and seconds can matter.”
Defence lawyer Singh said he had no issue with the suggested financial penalty but argued that probation is “not meant to be a reminder, not meant to be a punishment.”
He described Enns as a “hardworking” farmer and suggested probation is designed to rehabilitate an offender. “And that’s not required here,” he said.
After a recess to consider the sentence, Shelley included the probation order, stating, “I think there is a deterrent factor in probation.”
At his trial in October, Enns testified that because he thought he’d hit a deer, he didn’t report the incident until the next morning, about 10 hours later.
He called police just after 8 a.m. the next day, after seeing the damage was more serious than it looked at night, reading a post on Niagara 411’s Twitter feed about a police investigation into a fatality on Lakeshore Road and receiving a phone call from his daughter asking about the road closure on Lakeshore, Enns testified.
Singh argued at trial that Enns’ behaviour showed he reported the accident “forthwith.”
But Limheng contended Enns’ testimony was “filled with inconsistencies and self-interest” and that he was being “wilfully blind to the extent of the damage” to his truck.
He also questioned Enns’ credibility in coming up with a damage estimate that “was just under” the $2,000 total, which would have required him to report the incident right away.
While Enns testified he thought he had hit a deer, he admitted to Limheng he also feared he might have struck a person.
“To be honest, maybe I suspected” it was a person he had hit, Enns said, but emphasized that in the dark he saw “a tannish, brown form” he thought was a deer.
The collision occurred as Wilson was walking east toward NOTL along the unlit south shoulder of Lakeshore.
Minutes after the crash, Enns returned to the scene, looking for a sign of what he had hit.
He was driving a black Ford F-150 pickup and was headed to his home nearby on Irvine Road, about 1.5 kilometres from where he struck Wilson.
Enns had been out for dinner earlier that evening and said he was returning from his girlfriend’s home in St. Catharines.
He said he had one glass of wine a few hours before the crash.