4-year driving ban, 45-day jail term for Hamilton motorcyclist who caused man’s death

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Published February 1, 2023 at 3:32 pm

Mohawk Rd. E. on Hamilton Mountain. (Google Street View)

A Hamilton judge appeared to take the poor health of Paul Watson into account while sentencing him for fatally striking elderly Berkeley Wood on Mohawk Rd. E. late in 2019.

Justice of the Peace Donald Dudar ruled yesterday (Jan. 31) that Watson will serve 45 days in a detention facility and have a four-year driving ban. Last May, Dudar convicted Watson of careless driving causing death. On Dec. 28, 2019, he was driving a motorcycle that he was contemplating buying from a friend when he drove away from an intersection and struck the 68-year-old Wood and his 89-year-old mother Francis Wood, who were both using mobility devices as they made a commonplace crossing of Mohawk Rd., where many pedestrians jaywalk but use the roadway’s median divider as a rest stop.

The younger Wood died from his injuries. His mother suffered a compound fracture to her left tibia, a broken wrist, and inoperable fractures in both shoulders and one rib.

The Crown asked for Watson to receive 60 to 90 days in custody. Watson’s defence lawyer, Geoffrey Read, argued for him not to have any time in custody.

Justice Dudar noted the penalty provision for such a conviction carries a two-year driving ban. But he decided to double it since Watson has health problems (described in court docs as “relat[ing] largely to breathing and oxygenation”) that leave him medically unable to drive.

“I make this determination on the basis that he is unlikely to be able to drive for the next two years, and any driving suspension should reflect the consequence for these events, apart from the consequence he brought upon himself,” Justice Dudar wrote in the verdict. “The net result, then, is a driving suspension for two years beyond his expected time of being able to regain his licence.”

Dudar said the court needed to strike a balance between the need to mete out a significant penalty, Watson’s health, and past times in custody that are both more than 3½ decades old (having occurred in 1984 and ’87).

“I am mindful that any period of custody will be difficult for Mr. Watson,” Dudar wrote. “He has significant health challenges, is frequently reliant on supplemental oxygen, and is in a compromised state.

“I am also alive to the need for restraint,” he added, ordering that Watson receive health accommodations once he goes into custody on March 1.

The judge added that imposing a fine was unnecessary since Watson’s “financial wherewithal is significantly diminished, in part a result of his own actions.”

‘Need for denunciation’

Watson had worked as a professional truck driver prior to the crash, and the court noted his driving record was “unremarkable.” There was no evidence of intoxication at the time of the crash. Court heard that he cut out his alcohol use six months before his pre-sentencing hearing and reduced cannabis use to an occasional edible.

Traffic deaths in Hamilton have increased in the three full calendar years since Watson struck the Woods. Hamilton had 24 deaths on its roadways in 2022. That doubled the 2021 count of 12, which itself was a 10-year high.

Dudar’s sentencing decision and original trial verdict from May 10, 2022 acknowledged the total economic fallout from each collision.

“Roads are closed; investigations ensue; other road users experience inconvenience,” he wrote. “Significant resources including police, paramedics, ambulance, hospital, rehabilitation, and income supports are engaged. Given the observations, the need for denunciation is heightened.”

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