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Drunk driver who killed motorcyclist to be sentenced next week


A man who hit and killed a motorcyclist while driving drunk on a busy St. John’s street will find out next week how long he’ll spend behind bars.

If it was up to the Crown, Ronald Thistle would be sentenced to two years in jail. The defence believes an 18-month prison term is appropriate.

Justice Carl Thompson will render his decision Wednesday afternoon.

"I understand everyone needs closure,” the judge said before proceedings ended in Thistle’s sentencing hearing Thursday in Newfoundland Supreme Court.

Thistle pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death.

The 67-year-old was arrested as a result of a collision that happened on Aug. 16, 2013, on one of the city’s busiest streets.

At around 11:12 a.m., Thistle was making a left turn onto Kenmount Road from Polina Road when he pulled into the path of Nicholas Coates, who was driving his motorcycle east on Kenmount Road. It caused a T-bone collision, as Coates hit the side of Thistle’s pickup, sending him flying off his motorcycle and onto the pavement.

A witnesses at the scene said Thistle got out of his car, and said, “He ran a red light! He ran a red light!”

Coates was rushed to hospital, but the 27-year-old died later that day. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to his chest.

Traffic was heavy that warm summer morning and the roads were dry.

Since the collision did not leave any skid marks, it was difficult for investigators to determine the speeds of the vehicles.

Twelves witness accounts were read in court.

Some said Coates was driving responsibly, while others said it appeared he may have been speeding slightly. Some said he went through a yellow light.

Several of the witnesses said Thistle showed signs of impairment.

St. John’s Fire Department Captain Craig Cox also detected a smell of alcohol from Thistle.

When interviewing Thistle, RNC Const. Catherine Dawe noticed had put a stick of chewing gum in his mouth. However, she smelled alcohol on his breath.

He failed the roadside breath screening device at 11:36 a.m., was arrested and taken to the RNC office in Mount Pearl, where he again failed breathalyzer tests, showing a reading of 140 mg in 100 ml of blood and 130 mg about 20 minutes later.

Thistle — who does not have a criminal record — was released from custody with the promise to appear in court at a later date. Police drove him home.

When police went to Thistle’s house at around 7:30 p.m. to tell him the charges were upgraded because Coates died, officers said Thistle was remorseful.

Thistle then told officers that he had consumed rum the morning of the collision just after mowing his lawn. He said before the collision, he had visited his wife at work at the Village Mall and was on his way to Siemen’s on O’Leary Avenue to see former co-workers when the collision happened. He said he saw Coates on his motorcycle before the collision and assumed he would stop at the Avalon Mall intersection, just to the west of Polina Road.

It was an emotional day of testimony, as 11 victim impact statements by Coates’ family members and friends were read in court.

One of the most heart-wrenching was from Coates’ mother, Linda Coates.

Breaking down in tears, she described the pain she continues to feel almost two years after her son died.

“The sense of loss is beyond words, but it tears at my heart and soul every day,” she said, sobbing.

She said her son had a zest for life, loved the outdoors, loved his family, played guitar and was a successful civil engineer.

“All of his dreams all died with him,” she said, sobbing.

She said it pains her to think she will never celebrate any more milestones with her son and will never hear her son’s voice again.

“The mother-son journey is now over,” she said. “I’ll never get to walk him down the aisle (at his wedding) or dance the mother-son dance with him. I’ll never get to wait in the waiting room for the birth of his first child.”

She said she relives the accident every day.

“I try not to think about the pain he must’ve suffered,” she said, wiping tears. “I wonder if he knew he was going to die or if he was scared.”

She will never forgot the doctor’s words, “He’s gone” and letting out screams that echoed through the hospital corridors.

Coates said it’s been difficult to see how her son’s death has affected the rest of her family. She said it’s been tough to stay strong for them.

“They look to me to make sense of Nicholas’s death, but how can I justify the death of such a young man? … I can’t take away their pain. I can’t bring Nicholas back.

“Family gatherings are now filled with sadness, suffering and tears.”

She said the sound of sirens, “tears out my heart,” as does the sight and sound of motorcycles.

“I will carry the burden with me for the rest of my life,” she said.

She said, “The world will be deprived of a man who would’ve made the world a much better place.”

Her daughter, Terri-Lee Coates, Nicholas’s sister, was also emotional as she read her statement in court.

She said she’s watched her family fall apart since her brother’s dead.

“I can’t help but wonder what we did to deserve this pain,” said.

She said what happened, “makes you lose all hope in humanity.”

The last time she saw her brother was when he was being wheeled into the ER with trail of blood streaming on the floor.

“It makes you realize just how short life can be,” she said.

Elizabeth Winsor — who was Nicholas’ girlfriend — is also having a hard time picking up the pieces from “the worst day of my life.”

She said she suffers anxiety, flashbacks, panic attacks, sleeplessness, malnutrition and she cries all the time.

“My life as I knew it for four years is gone,” she said.

She said she and Nicholas had planned to get married and start a family.

“All our plans for the future ... was just ripped away,” she said.

After Nicholas died, it took months for her to go back to the home they shared.

“Before he died, I had not doubt we would be together for the rest of our lives,” she said.

Nicholas’s father, Terry Coates, said the last memory of his son is being wheeled into the ER.

“The day Nicholas died, I was given a life sentence of grief and a broken heart,” he wrote.

Terry then got so upset, his wife, Trish Coates, had to finish reading his statement.

He said when they buried Nicholas, a part of his heart and soul were also buried.

“We deal with the harsh reality that Nicholas will never be home again,” he wrote.

“My hope for the future is that people realize that impaired driving is not an accident. It’s a choice and it’s not acceptable.”

Crown prosecutor Phil LeFeuvre agreed and said the courts must send a clear message that drinking and driving won’t be tolerated.

He said parliament has increased the maximum sentence for drunk driving causing death to life in prison because of it.

He said Coates was “clearly the nucleus of a large family”

He said this will be a permanent stain on Thistle’s previously clean record.

“Ronald Thistle will forever be known as the drunk driver who killed Nicholas Coates on Kenmount Road,” LeFeuvre said.

He said while it was a busy and dangerous intersection, he said it’s all the more reason why drivers must be alert and sober, in order to deal with these types of situations on the road.

He said a two-year jail term, with a period of probation, is a proper sentence.

“Drunk driving causes the most significant social loss in this country,” LeFeuvre said. “We submit it remains a societal problem. The court has a role in communicating a message of denunciation.

“Drunk driving is becoming more and more socially unacceptable and the sentence should reflect that.”

Defence lawyer Bob Simmonds agreed that Thistle made a huge mistake, which resulted in a devastating result.

“My client was impaired. He has acknowledged his responsibility was a factor,” he said.

However, he reminded the judge that his role is to balance the offence and the offender.

“This is a tremendous loss. A loss, no doubt, Mr. Thistle will feel for the rest of his life. I agree his loss pales in comparison to the (Coates’) family loss. No sentence will change the anguish. But you have to look at this objectively.”

Simmonds pointed out that several witnesses at the scene said Coates was driving over the 50 km/hr speed limit and that he went through a yellow light.

“I truly wish I could say something to make the pain go away. I wish my client could do something, but there’s not,” Simmonds said.

“But your role is one of objectivity.”

He said Thistle’s driving was not so egregious as is seen in many other impaired cases.

He said while Thistle’s loss pales in comparison to Thistle’s family loss, he has still suffered a loss.

“When you match the offence with the offender, the sentence I ask for (18 months) is a just one,” said Simmonds, who added probation is not necessary.

 

 

Earlier story:

Ronald Thistle has admitted to being drunk when he hit and killed a motorcyclist with his pickup truck in August 2013.

Thistle pleaded guilty this morning to impaired driving causing death when the case was called in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's.

Thistle, 66, killed Nicholas Coates who was riding his motorcycle on Kenmount Road.

Thistle, who lives in Kilbride, was driving a pickup on Aug. 16, 2013, when he pulled out of Polina Road onto Kenmount Road, causing Coates’ east-bound motorcycle to crash into the side of Thistle’s truck.

Coates, 27, was rushed to hospital, and later died from his injuries.

Members of Coates' family are in the courtroom for proceedings.

The day has been set aside for Thistle's sentencing hearing, during which an agreed statement of facts and victim impact statements will be presented.

The Telegram will provide updates throughout the day.

 

rmullaley@theyelegram.com

Twitter: TelyCourt

 

 

If it was up to the Crown, Ronald Thistle would be sentenced to two years in jail. The defence believes an 18-month prison term is appropriate.

Justice Carl Thompson will render his decision Wednesday afternoon.

"I understand everyone needs closure,” the judge said before proceedings ended in Thistle’s sentencing hearing Thursday in Newfoundland Supreme Court.

Thistle pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death.

The 67-year-old was arrested as a result of a collision that happened on Aug. 16, 2013, on one of the city’s busiest streets.

At around 11:12 a.m., Thistle was making a left turn onto Kenmount Road from Polina Road when he pulled into the path of Nicholas Coates, who was driving his motorcycle east on Kenmount Road. It caused a T-bone collision, as Coates hit the side of Thistle’s pickup, sending him flying off his motorcycle and onto the pavement.

A witnesses at the scene said Thistle got out of his car, and said, “He ran a red light! He ran a red light!”

Coates was rushed to hospital, but the 27-year-old died later that day. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to his chest.

Traffic was heavy that warm summer morning and the roads were dry.

Since the collision did not leave any skid marks, it was difficult for investigators to determine the speeds of the vehicles.

Twelves witness accounts were read in court.

Some said Coates was driving responsibly, while others said it appeared he may have been speeding slightly. Some said he went through a yellow light.

Several of the witnesses said Thistle showed signs of impairment.

St. John’s Fire Department Captain Craig Cox also detected a smell of alcohol from Thistle.

When interviewing Thistle, RNC Const. Catherine Dawe noticed had put a stick of chewing gum in his mouth. However, she smelled alcohol on his breath.

He failed the roadside breath screening device at 11:36 a.m., was arrested and taken to the RNC office in Mount Pearl, where he again failed breathalyzer tests, showing a reading of 140 mg in 100 ml of blood and 130 mg about 20 minutes later.

Thistle — who does not have a criminal record — was released from custody with the promise to appear in court at a later date. Police drove him home.

When police went to Thistle’s house at around 7:30 p.m. to tell him the charges were upgraded because Coates died, officers said Thistle was remorseful.

Thistle then told officers that he had consumed rum the morning of the collision just after mowing his lawn. He said before the collision, he had visited his wife at work at the Village Mall and was on his way to Siemen’s on O’Leary Avenue to see former co-workers when the collision happened. He said he saw Coates on his motorcycle before the collision and assumed he would stop at the Avalon Mall intersection, just to the west of Polina Road.

It was an emotional day of testimony, as 11 victim impact statements by Coates’ family members and friends were read in court.

One of the most heart-wrenching was from Coates’ mother, Linda Coates.

Breaking down in tears, she described the pain she continues to feel almost two years after her son died.

“The sense of loss is beyond words, but it tears at my heart and soul every day,” she said, sobbing.

She said her son had a zest for life, loved the outdoors, loved his family, played guitar and was a successful civil engineer.

“All of his dreams all died with him,” she said, sobbing.

She said it pains her to think she will never celebrate any more milestones with her son and will never hear her son’s voice again.

“The mother-son journey is now over,” she said. “I’ll never get to walk him down the aisle (at his wedding) or dance the mother-son dance with him. I’ll never get to wait in the waiting room for the birth of his first child.”

She said she relives the accident every day.

“I try not to think about the pain he must’ve suffered,” she said, wiping tears. “I wonder if he knew he was going to die or if he was scared.”

She will never forgot the doctor’s words, “He’s gone” and letting out screams that echoed through the hospital corridors.

Coates said it’s been difficult to see how her son’s death has affected the rest of her family. She said it’s been tough to stay strong for them.

“They look to me to make sense of Nicholas’s death, but how can I justify the death of such a young man? … I can’t take away their pain. I can’t bring Nicholas back.

“Family gatherings are now filled with sadness, suffering and tears.”

She said the sound of sirens, “tears out my heart,” as does the sight and sound of motorcycles.

“I will carry the burden with me for the rest of my life,” she said.

She said, “The world will be deprived of a man who would’ve made the world a much better place.”

Her daughter, Terri-Lee Coates, Nicholas’s sister, was also emotional as she read her statement in court.

She said she’s watched her family fall apart since her brother’s dead.

“I can’t help but wonder what we did to deserve this pain,” said.

She said what happened, “makes you lose all hope in humanity.”

The last time she saw her brother was when he was being wheeled into the ER with trail of blood streaming on the floor.

“It makes you realize just how short life can be,” she said.

Elizabeth Winsor — who was Nicholas’ girlfriend — is also having a hard time picking up the pieces from “the worst day of my life.”

She said she suffers anxiety, flashbacks, panic attacks, sleeplessness, malnutrition and she cries all the time.

“My life as I knew it for four years is gone,” she said.

She said she and Nicholas had planned to get married and start a family.

“All our plans for the future ... was just ripped away,” she said.

After Nicholas died, it took months for her to go back to the home they shared.

“Before he died, I had not doubt we would be together for the rest of our lives,” she said.

Nicholas’s father, Terry Coates, said the last memory of his son is being wheeled into the ER.

“The day Nicholas died, I was given a life sentence of grief and a broken heart,” he wrote.

Terry then got so upset, his wife, Trish Coates, had to finish reading his statement.

He said when they buried Nicholas, a part of his heart and soul were also buried.

“We deal with the harsh reality that Nicholas will never be home again,” he wrote.

“My hope for the future is that people realize that impaired driving is not an accident. It’s a choice and it’s not acceptable.”

Crown prosecutor Phil LeFeuvre agreed and said the courts must send a clear message that drinking and driving won’t be tolerated.

He said parliament has increased the maximum sentence for drunk driving causing death to life in prison because of it.

He said Coates was “clearly the nucleus of a large family”

He said this will be a permanent stain on Thistle’s previously clean record.

“Ronald Thistle will forever be known as the drunk driver who killed Nicholas Coates on Kenmount Road,” LeFeuvre said.

He said while it was a busy and dangerous intersection, he said it’s all the more reason why drivers must be alert and sober, in order to deal with these types of situations on the road.

He said a two-year jail term, with a period of probation, is a proper sentence.

“Drunk driving causes the most significant social loss in this country,” LeFeuvre said. “We submit it remains a societal problem. The court has a role in communicating a message of denunciation.

“Drunk driving is becoming more and more socially unacceptable and the sentence should reflect that.”

Defence lawyer Bob Simmonds agreed that Thistle made a huge mistake, which resulted in a devastating result.

“My client was impaired. He has acknowledged his responsibility was a factor,” he said.

However, he reminded the judge that his role is to balance the offence and the offender.

“This is a tremendous loss. A loss, no doubt, Mr. Thistle will feel for the rest of his life. I agree his loss pales in comparison to the (Coates’) family loss. No sentence will change the anguish. But you have to look at this objectively.”

Simmonds pointed out that several witnesses at the scene said Coates was driving over the 50 km/hr speed limit and that he went through a yellow light.

“I truly wish I could say something to make the pain go away. I wish my client could do something, but there’s not,” Simmonds said.

“But your role is one of objectivity.”

He said Thistle’s driving was not so egregious as is seen in many other impaired cases.

He said while Thistle’s loss pales in comparison to Thistle’s family loss, he has still suffered a loss.

“When you match the offence with the offender, the sentence I ask for (18 months) is a just one,” said Simmonds, who added probation is not necessary.

 

 

Earlier story:

Ronald Thistle has admitted to being drunk when he hit and killed a motorcyclist with his pickup truck in August 2013.

Thistle pleaded guilty this morning to impaired driving causing death when the case was called in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's.

Thistle, 66, killed Nicholas Coates who was riding his motorcycle on Kenmount Road.

Thistle, who lives in Kilbride, was driving a pickup on Aug. 16, 2013, when he pulled out of Polina Road onto Kenmount Road, causing Coates’ east-bound motorcycle to crash into the side of Thistle’s truck.

Coates, 27, was rushed to hospital, and later died from his injuries.

Members of Coates' family are in the courtroom for proceedings.

The day has been set aside for Thistle's sentencing hearing, during which an agreed statement of facts and victim impact statements will be presented.

The Telegram will provide updates throughout the day.

 

rmullaley@theyelegram.com

Twitter: TelyCourt

 

 

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