Family upset with sentence in criminal negligence case

Man responsible for Veronica Doyle Lewis’s death gets 6 1/2-year jail term

Rosie Mullaley
Published on June 18, 2014
William John Conway is led out of provincial court in St. John’s after he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in jail Tuesday. — Photo by Rosie Mullaley/The Telegram

Their T-shirts asked for “Justice for Veronica,” but they didn’t feel the court gave it to her Tuesday

Family members of Veronica Doyle Lewis, including her daughter Lee Doyle, wept as she watched the man who was responsible for her death being led out of the courtroom in provincial court in St. John’s.

William Patrick Conway was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in jail. With 1 1/2 times credit given for the time he’s already spent in custody, it leaves 5 1/2 years remaining on his term.

“We’re not satisfied with it, but no amount of time is ever going to bring Mom back,” Lee Doyle told reporters when asked what she thought of the sentence.

“It just sucks that in 5 1/2 years, his family will have him back and we will never have Mom back.”

Holding back tears, Lee added, “Something has to be done with this justice system. They’re basing every case on cases from years ago. That’s why people keep committing these crimes, because nothing is being done about it. Nothing!”

Conway, 51, pleaded guilty to five charges, including four in connection with the incident that killed Lewis on Oct. 24, 2013 — criminal negligence by operating a vehicle that caused her death, and three counts of breaching an undertaking. The court had ordered that he abstain from alcohol, not drive and stay away from Lewis, since he had been charged with assaulting her two months prior to her death.

At 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 24 last year, Conway — in a drunken stupor after arguing with Lewis — ran over her with his pickup truck and killed her.

Lewis, who was also intoxicated, had been clinging to the side of his truck and fell off while he was backing out of his driveway on Firdale Drive in the Airport Heights area.

Conway told police he had seen her in his rearview mirror, but when she went out of view, he continued to back up and then drove off. He got as far as the end of the road and decided to turn around.

He said when he was driving back, he mistakenly believed that Lewis should have been OK for the fall off the truck and that she had gone back inside.

As he was looking towards the apartment for her, he felt two quick thumps under his truck, he said. He got out and saw it was Lewis, lying in the road, bleeding.

Conway said he panicked. In shock, and not knowing whether Lewis was dead or alive, he ran back into his truck and sped off, he said.

The 57-year-old woman’s body was found by a man driving by about 20 minutes later.

Two hours later, police spotted Conway’s red Dodge Dakota pulling up to the gate at the Bell Island ferry terminal and arrested him.

The autopsy revealed that Lewis died as a result of crushing injuries of the chest.

He also pleaded guilty to failing to stop at the scene of an accident, which stemmed from an unrelated incident in February 2013, when he crashed into a truck and took off.

During the sentencing hearing last month, Crown prosecutor Jeff Summers had asked for a sentence of between eight and 10 years.

Defence counsel Michelle Coady said a four- to six-year jail term was more appropriate.

When Conway got the chance to address the court, he apologized for what he did and to Lewis’s family.

Several of Lewis’s family members also presented emotional victim impact statements.

“They are all powerful expressions of loss,” Judge Mark Linehan said Tuesday.

He went on to say, “I understand the victims’ loss. However, no jail sentence can possibly compensate them for their loss.

“The sentence is no attempt to reflect the worth of a person’s life.”

Linehan also pointed out that “vengeance is not a principle of sentencing and should find no part of the process.”

In deciding a sentence, Linehan took into consideration the fact that Conway’s confession provided the only evidence to support the charge of criminal negligence causing death. He also said Conway was taking steps to get counselling while behind bars.

However, he said Conway had a high degree of blameworthiness because he continued to back up knowing Lewis was at the back of his truck.

As part of his sentence, Conway is also banned from driving for 12 years.

Lewis’s family is glad the court procedure is finally over, but admits things will never be the same.

“I’m hoping this will give us some kind of healing or closure,” Lee Doyle said. “It hasn’t been easy. It’s been almost eight months and it’s still just as bad.”

Twitter: @TelyCourt