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Police failed in crash death probe, lawyer says after client cleared

Supreme Court: Accused takes the stand

Police failed to carry out a proper investigation in the case of a truck driver accused of causing the death of a motorcyclist while drink driving, a lawyer said yesterday.

Richard Horseman, counsel for Charles Johnson, who was cleared last week in the Supreme Court, added that the 65-year-old should not have had to face the charge.

Mr Horseman said: “This case should have never been brought and the investigation left a lot to be desired.

“We spoke with witnesses who were made available to the police and the prosecution and who made it clear that the accident was not the fault of Mr Johnson.”

Eyewitness evidence that helped clear Mr Johnson included testimony that the victim’s motorcycle was being driven “like a flash of lightning” before the fatal crash.

Mr Johnson, of St George’s, was cleared by Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams after the defence challenged the allegations over the 2018 collision that claimed the life of Arthur Wales, 48, on Cut Road in St George’s.

Mr Horseman said there had been a “lack of investigation into the accident”.

He added Mr Johnson was grateful to be exonerated.

Mr Horseman said Mr Johnson was a friend of the victim and the lawyer offered condolences to the Wales family.

He said it was “a terrible accident”.

Mr Horseman added: “I knew Mr Wales personally and I can say that St George’s and Bermuda lost a unique individual who was a real character.

“This was a tragic loss of life and I know George is missed by his family and friends.

“I am, however, happy for my client that this case, which dates back to 2018, is finally over.”

A police spokesman said the matter was under review by the Bermuda Police Service’s professional standards department.

He added: “As such, we are unable to provide any further comment at this time.”

Cindy Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “We have received the written reasons for the decision in this matter, and we are considering our options.”

The ruling was made last Friday by Mrs Justice Subair Williams, who gave her reasons in writing this week.

The court heard that the Crown’s case against Mr Johnson was based on police evidence that the November 2018 crash had been “low impact”.

But that was contradicted by two witnesses, as well as by evidence from Joseph Froncioni, a doctor, based on the victim’s injuries, and Gary Venning, a retired police officer and accident investigator.

The crash happened just before 7pm after Mr Johnson’s truck pulled out of a property on Cut Road and headed west.

Mr Wales’ motorcycle collided with the truck, and he was later pronounced dead at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

Mr Johnson admitted to police he had consumed beer earlier that day.

Later analysis showed he and the victim were over the legal limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol in100 millilitres of blood.

Mr Johnson was never charged with drink driving, which is a summary offence that must be brought to court within 18 months.

He appeared in court in October last year on the indictable offence of causing death by driving under the influence of alcohol.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams wrote in her judgment that the victim’s level of blood alcohol had affected his driving in the run-up to the crash.

She also ruled the Crown would be “unable to prove on its evidence before me that Mr Johnson’s line of visibility would have reasonably allowed him to perceive the oncoming speeding bike” before he turned onto Cut Road.

She highlighted that the crash “occurred at dusk when the sun was just setting”.

The defence brought evidence from two women who saw Mr Wales riding at speeds they estimated at 60mph.

Betty Reid and her daughter, Pamela Ingham, were driving east on Cut Road when they were passed at “an extremely high speed” by a motorcyclist that the court accepted was the victim.

Ms Reid said the victim, known as George, had been a cousin of her daughter.

Her affidavit added: “When I say an extremely high rate of speed, he was like a flash of lighting.

“It seemed to me that he had to be doing no less than 60 miles per hour.”

Ms Ingham said she believed that if the truck they had passed pulled out into the main road, there would be “no way” for the motorcycle to stop in time.

The two did not witness the crash.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams also ruled it would be impossible for a jury to accept the police opinion of a low-impact crash, based on the evidence of Dr Froncioni and Mr Venning.

She highlighted that police had not alleged Mr Johnson was “driving erratically or travelling at a high speed in his truck”.

She ruled that “no properly instructed jury could have safely convicted on the evidence before me” and dismissed the charge against Mr Johnson.

To read the judgment in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.