Michael Jones – a father, grandfather and Canadian Forces veteran – died after being hit by a car while riding his bike on Broadway in Tillsonburg earlier this year.
On Tuesday, Mark Newell, the hit-and run-driver responsible for his death, was sentenced to four years in jail in a Woodstock courtroom packed with his victim’s family.
“We recognize this is a difficult sentencing hearing, and we recognize that Mr. Jones was taken too soon,” said Cassandra DeMelo, Newell’s defence lawyer, in her statements to the court Tuesday.
Newell, in custody since the May 21 collision, pleaded guilty to all three charges, including dangerous driving causing death, leaving the scene of an accident and misleading police.
He was sentenced to four years in prison, including time served, and a lifelong driving prohibition.
In the gallery during the plea and sentencing were scores of Jones’ family and friends. Four of Jones’ immediate family delivered victim-impact statements, often speaking directly to a tearful Newell.
“The thought of my dad, scared and surrounded by strangers… as he passed away scared and alone haunts my mind and tortures my soul,” said Crystal Arnold, Jones’ daughter.
“No one deserves to die alone and unknown.”
With a framed photo of Jones on the stand, two of his siblings, David Jones and Elizabeth Southorn, also delivered emotional statements to the court, as did his sister-in-law, Dawn Jones.
An avid cyclist, the court heard that Jones was planning a summer bike trip to his hometown of Charlottetown, P.E.I., while looking forward to his retirement from Fleetwood Metal Industries in Tillsonburg.
A Canadian Armed Forces veteran of 15 years, he was awarded a good conduct medal and a peacekeeping medal, according to his obituary.
“I am trying to heal, but it is not easy and it is going to be a long road for me and my family,” Arnold said.
Jones’ death was a result of “an unfortunate set of choices” Newell made, his defence lawyer told the court, outlining a history of addiction.
“And choices we recognize they were … the choices made by someone in the throes of addiction,” said DeMelo in her submissions on Newell’s behalf.
DeMelo said Newell initially had a bright future, graduating from high school and attending Mohawk College. He worked in factories, where he was first introduced to drugs, including cocaine and OxyContin.
That led Newell to two stints in rehab and, ultimately, eight sober years where he had his own business making steel silos for farmers, a common-law partner and two now-preteen daughters.
But Newell relapsed in 2016.
Newell’s previous history with the courts is a long string of driving-related crimes, including impaired driving and driving while disqualified.
Jones, 63, died on May 21 after being hit while on his bike at the intersection of Broadway and Christie Street in Tillsonburg.
In her submission, Crown lawyer Sandra Kent said Newell had veered towards Jones for “no apparent reason” on that bright and clear morning, hitting him and sending him over the windshield and onto the sidewalk.
Newell fled the scene, later causing a second crash in nearby Elgin County, and hatching a plan to avoid police. He asked a friend to report the car he had been driving as stolen. His licence was disqualified at the time.
In a joint position, Kent and DeMelo said they were in agreement on four years in custody for Newell, but differed on the length of the driving ban – DeMelo wanted five to 10 years, while the Crown looked for a lifetime ban.
“This court needs to send the message that if you acquire this kind of driving record, and you’re convicted of the offences before the court today, that caused the death of someone who served this country, you will not drive again,” Kent said.
Ultimately, aggravating factors, like Newell’s second crash that day, his attempt to hide his crime and leaving the scene prompted Justice Matthew Graham to issue a lifetime driving ban. Graham said he believed Newell’s remorse was genuine, but said Jones had been “left to die.”
After time served in pre-sentence custody, Newell is set to serve three years and 71 days.
Following victim-impact statements and submissions, a visibly emotional Newell said he’d take it all back if he could.
“Being incarcerated, I have thought a lot about life, about love and grief and acceptance,” Newell said. “Please see that I will try and be a better person than I was.”
Newell’s family, including his mother and father, were in court. After his sentencing, his mother joined Jones’ family in tears as the courtroom cleared.
But that was hollow comfort to Arnold, who said after sentencing she was disappointed in the proceedings.
“For people to know they could do what he did, and that’s all he got?” she said “I’m disappointed.”