On the sixth day of the Damian Sobieraj manslaughter trial, court heard from two people who say they watched the 33-year-old from a boardwalk as he tried to swim before his death.
The trial’s first adult witness took the stand on Thursday, along with a now-14-year-old boy who described the events he saw and heard on Sep. 13, 2018, in Brockville’s Hardy Park.
Sobieraj’s body was found in the St. Lawrence River on Sept. 14 and police later said foul play was involved in his death. Police say Sobieraj was killed while walking his dog at Hardy Park on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, just minutes after he called police to report a disturbance in the park.
The 14-year-old, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, gave similar testimony to the other youth witnesses who say they were present during the altercation with Sobieraj before his death. Each of those who have appeared on the stand over the past week has said Sobieraj approached two 12-year-olds hitting trees with sticks in the park and told them to stop.
Each of the youth witnesses has also told the court that an altercation ensued between Sobieraj and two older members of the group — a dispute that ultimately led them to the water’s edge.
Like the other youths who testified, Wednesday’s youth witness said the then-14-year-old accused — now a 15-year-old girl facing a manslaughter charge — pushed Sobieraj into the water, where he ultimately drowned.
When asked why he didn’t help Sobieraj, he said: “We didn’t know if he was crazy, and if I threw in the life preserver, I’m a little guy, and he could have pulled me in.”
Once questioning of the youth witness was completed, Jarred Philips, an 18-year-old who says he was also present in Hardy Park the night Sobieraj died, was called to the stand.
Crown counsel Alan Findlay began asking Philips about his interaction with Sobieraj that night in Hardy Park. The rapid-fire questioning caused both to interrupt each other, making for sometimes tense questioning.
Philips told court Sobieraj came over to tell the boys to stop hitting the trees and tried to grab a stick out of a boy’s hand, grabbing one of them by the shirt.
“He did tell them to stop but also that he’ll beat the (expletive) out of them,” Philips told the court.
This memory of the altercation came as a surprise to Findlay, as this was the first time, according to the Crown, that he had heard of Sobieraj threatening violence that night.
At one point, Philips lost his temper with Findlay and began hurling expletives at the Crown.
A long, awkward pause followed before Findlay asked Philips to corroborate a witness testimony that he had watched Sobieraj struggling in the water.
“When I saw him treading water, I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He then pushed himself underwater, and that’s when the cops showed up and we ran,” Philips said as he leaned back into his chair with his left arm around the back of the stand box.
During the witness testimonies, Sobieraj’s mother was visibly upset, in tears for most of the day.
The trial will resume on Thursday morning.