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Closing arguments provided in Silk case

Tracy McLaughlin

By Tracy McLaughlin, Special to Postmedia Network

Ellen Silk

Ellen Silk

BARRIE -- Driver Tyson Lawlor can not escape blame for Ellen Silk's death even though she was not wearing a seatbelt -- because he was driving while drunk, the Crown insisted Friday.

"He was partying, he was singing, he was drinking while driving, he was turning around, he had beer in his cup holder... he caused the death of Ellen Silk," said Crown attorney Bhavna Bhangu in closing arguments.

Lawlor, 22, of Orillia, has pleaded not guilty to impaired driving causing death, driving over 80 and criminal negligence causing death.

Lawlor admits he was driving his black pickup truck with three passengers on the way home from a Midland bar at around 3 a.m. when he swerved off the road and crashed into a tree on Warminster side road, near Orillia, November 20, 2015.

Lawlor's cousin, Ellen Silk, 20, was sitting in the back seat next to a case of beer and was killed.

The tragic evening started out when Lawlor and Silk and two other friends took some beers they called "roadies" with them as they drove from Orillia to a Midland bar where they drank and played pool.

On the way home he had a beer in the cupholder beside him while the four were laughing and singing with country tunes blaring when Lawlor suddenly turned to look at his friends in the back seat and swerved from the right side of the road into the left ditch and into a tree, which smashed the back window where Silk was sitting.

When the truck came to a stop everything was silent. As the survivors turned on the interior light, they looked into the back seat and saw their friend, horribly killed, and began screaming hysterically and went into shock.

Earlier in the trial the court saw a video showing Lawlor, upset, his head in his hands, weeping, at the Orillia police station where he gave breath tests two hours later. Court has heard Lawlor's blood alcohol level was between 150 and 190 at the time of the crash.

"My friends were in the back seat and I turned around just for a sec and we were in the ditch," he explained to a police officer. "Were you close to her?" asks the police officer. "Yup," he answers. Several times he tells the officer he doesn't want to speak without a lawyer, but the officer continues his questioning.

In closing arguments defence lawyer Ray Morhan insisted that is was the "split second" turning of his head that caused the accident. Morhan claims that while Lawlor is guilty of driving with alcohol in his system over the legal limit -- there is no proof that he was driving while impaired.

"It was a mistake that anyone could have made without being impaired in any way," Morhan said. "Turning your head for a split second is not an indication of impairment." He noted Lawlor's friends and six bar staff at the bar stated he did not seem impaired.

"In cases like this we all look to assign blame... but the evidence does not establish impaired driving, Morhan said. "This was a combination of a momentary distraction by the driver and the unfortunate fact that the deceased had no seatbelt which ended with tragic results," Morhan said.

But Crown Attorney Bhavna Bhangu insisted Lawlor can not escape liability for Silk's death regardless of the fact that Silk "possibly" could have survived had she been wearing a seatbelt.

"Ellen Silk did not die solely because she wasn't wearing a seatbelt - she died because the driver couldn't keep that truck on the road," Bhangu said. "Whether or not she was wearing a seatbelt, her life was in his hands ... and he was impaired."

Bhangu pointed to evidence of other crashes where bodies were ejected from a vehicle even though a seatbelt was worn.

Bhangu also pointed to scientific evidence that shows a person driving with a blood-alcohol reading of 150 is 25 times more likely to get into an accident while driving.

Bhungu described the horrific scene, Silk's body wedged between the back seat beside a case of beer, an open can of beer on the floor.

"This could have been a poster for Mother's Against Drunk Driving," Bhangu said.

Justice Nancy Dawson is hoping to have her verdict ready by Aug. 21. If found guilty, Lawlor could be looking at a lengthy prison sentence. While the maximum sentence is life in prison, the average sentence for a first-time offender is about four years.

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