Split decision in Oshawa police officer involved crash that cost motorcyclist his leg

By

Published November 10, 2022 at 2:06 pm

A York Regional Police officer and Oshawa resident has been cleared of dangerous driving charges but has been convicted of failing to remain at the scene of an accident that cost a motorcyclist his leg.

Nathan Coates, then 42 and a 13-year York police officer, was driving home to Oshawa from a softball tournament in Markham in September 2019. He was driving his SUV east on Hwy 7 around 7:15 p.m. when he began to approach the York-Durham line.

Simultaneously, Stewart Sweeney, then 23 of Pickering, was riding his father’s motorcycle west along the same highway. As the two vehicles approached an s-bend in the road, Coates’ SUV crossed the centre line and crashed into Sweeney, according to Justice Jonathan Dawe’s reason for judgment. 

The motorcyclist was thrown off his bike to land in the grass on the north side of the road. He sustained serious injuries to his shoulder and leg. Ultimately, Sweeney’s left leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Coates did not stop after the collision and continued to drive another nearly four kilometres from the crash site. He did not call 911.

Sweeney, badly wounded though he was, managed to get to his phone and call 911 himself. He reported he’d been struck and “was in a lot of pain.” Sweeney remained laying in the grass on the phone with 911 for the next 15 minutes while paramedics and responding police officers looked for him.

Cst. Andrew Clarke found Sweeney at around 7:30 p.m reporting that Sweeney’s leg was “totally messed up.” Sweeney was rushed to Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto. The Collision Investigation Unit locked down the scene of the crash.

Sweeney lived with his parents at the time of the crash. While the motorcycle was his father’s, Sweeney testified he was the primary rider and called it his “passion.” He estimated to have ridden 2,000 km on the bike.

Sweeney was on his way to Markham that night to go rock climbing, something he often did. When he and the car collided, it shattered the bones in his leg under the knee.

The leg first had to be amputated below the knee. However, he later had to undergo another amputation above the knee in order to wear a prosthetic.

Around the same time Clarke found Sweeney, reports came in that a damaged SUV had been spotted down the road on the far side of the York-Durham Line.

Another driver passed by the SUV as he headed west and pulled over at the crash scene to tell Clarke, who in turn reported via radio, “I’ve just got a passerby says that car that hit this gentleman is just east of York-Durham Town Line. The guy’s hammered.”

Cst. Pavol Zec was sent out to find the SUV. However, after some miscommunication and searching in the wrong area, Zec didn’t find the SUV until about 8 p.m.

Zec arrested Coates when he caught up to the SUV. He arrested Coates, who he recognized as a fellow York police officer, on a drunk driving charge. However, Zec did not demand a breath sample from Coates upon his arrest. He said he planned to do it later.

As he drove away with Coates in the cruiser, Zec reported he did not require EMS as Coates had no visible injuries. Coates’ defense would later argue he had actually suffered a concussion in the crash.

The cruiser arrived at York police 5 Division headquarters in Markham around 8:26. However, as the booking officer was busy, Coates remained in the cruiser until nearly 8:45.

Meanwhile a breath sample specialist, Cst. Chad Scott had been called into the station for his expertise. However, despite conversation during the booking regarding a lawyer for Coates’ the officers made no mention of collecting a breath sample, even though Coates told them he had consumed alcohol that day and Scott was setting up to take a sample.

After a phone call with duty counsel and discussions between the officers about Zec not demanding a breath sample earlier, Coates took the breathalyzer test around 9:30 p.m, more than two hours after the crash. He blew over at 140 mg/ml of blood. The legal limit is 80 mg/ml.

Following further investigation at the crash site and of Coates’ car, police upgraded his charges to impaired operation causing bodily harm, ‘over 80′ cause bodily harm, dangerous operation cause bodily harm, and failure to stop at an accident. He was ultimately held overnight until a bail hearing.

Later prior to trial, Coates’ defense attorneys argued the fact that Coates’ Charter rights against unlawful search and seizure had been violated because Zec and Scott had not demanded the breath sample prior to Coates’ call with duty counsel and failed to tell him his ‘jeopardy’ had increased due to the new charges.

Additionally they argued his rights to counsel had been violated by this lack of information about his jeopardy and might not have been content with duty counsel had he known.

Dawe agreed with the assessment that Coates’ rights had been violated. To rectify the breach, Dawe ordered the breathalyzer results excluded as evidence.

Other evidence was presented in its stead. Member’s of Coates’ softball team, called the Major League Drinkers, testified he had a beer and some rum mixed with Gatorade during the game, but that he didn’t seem impaired when he left. The team includes Fernando Su, another York police officer.

As a result the the Crown prosecutors were unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Coates had been driving impaired and Dawe acquitted him of that charge.

Dawe also acquitted Coates of dangerous driving causing harm and dangerous driving causing harm while impaired. Coates was however convicted on the final charge of failing to stop after an accident.

indurham's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising