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Car identity the issue in Conception Bay North street racing trial

Steven Ryan Mercer was back in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's Thursday for closing arguments in his trial.
Steven Ryan Mercer was back in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's Thursday for closing arguments in his trial. - Rosie Mullaley

Judge to render verdict Oct. 29 in case of man accused of causing Hannah Thorne's death

There's no doubting witnesses travelling on Route 73 along the New Harbour Barrens saw what looked like a small, dark-coloured Chevy Cobolt speeding past them on the evening of July 7, 2016.

But whether there's enough evidence to prove it was the same small, dark-coloured Chevy Cobolt Steven Ryan Mercer was driving in the same area at around the same time is what Justice William Goodridge must determine.

He must also decide whether there's enough evidence to conclude Mercer was racing with a Ford F-150 pickup truck that smashed into a Hyundai Accent – a collision that instantly killed 18-year-old Hannah Thorne and seriously injured the Accent's driver, her grandmother, Gertie Thorne.

Mercer has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal negligence causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, street racing causing death, street racing causing bodily harm and breaching court orders.

In closing arguments at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's Thursday, Crown prosecutor Richard Deveau said while the evidence is circumstantial, given the evidence of the witnesses "there is no other rational inference that can be made. There's no other plausible explanation."

Mercer admitted to police he was driving his girlfriend's Cobolt along that highway, but said he had just passed the site of the collision when it happened. He said he saw it in his rearview mirror.

Deveau said the possibility of two Cobolts in the same area driving at that rate of speed at around the same time is, "not a reasonable theory. Nor is it plausible. … It's nonsensical and defies common sense."

But Mercer's lawyer, Randy Piercey, pointed out that none of the witnesses could say for certain after the crash that the dark-coloured car they saw zooming past them was actually a Cobolt. The only witness who said it was a Cobolt came to that conclusion only after seeing one at a car lot shortly after the incident.

The other witnesses, Piercey said, all had slightly different descriptions. One, for example, said the car had black taillights, when Mercer's had red. Others said it was a dark-coloured car, some said blue or purple and conceded they didn't know the make of the car. There were also differing recollections about whether it was a two-door or four-door vehicle.

"This should not be sufficient (enough evidence) for the court (to convict Mercer)," Piercey said.

Piercey said there is a possibility Mercer's Cobolt was on the same highway, but that the witnesses didn't notice his vehicle.

"Drive home today and we don't notice what cars pass us," he said. "We don't pay attention to that."

He also questioned why Brian King, the driver of the F-150, wasn't called to testify.

"That's a huge hole in the Crown's case," Piercey said.

King eventually pleaded guilty to charges of street racing causing death, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm and negligent driving, and received a four-year jail sentence, minus credit for the time he had spent in jail since his arrest.

Goodridge is scheduled to render the verdict in Mercer's case Oct. 29.

rosie.mullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyRosie

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