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Pickering man pleads guilty to impaired driving causing death of 2 Centennial College students

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WATCH ABOVE: A Pickering man has pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing the death of two Centennial College students. Michael Johnson admitted to driving more than 100 km/h over the speed limit. Catherine McDonald reports – Jan 6, 2021

Forty-one-year-old Michael Johnson showed little emotion during a virtual court hearing Wednesday as he admitted to six charges, including impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing the deaths of Weijie Zhu Li and Damir Kussain, and impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm in relation to Zhu Li’s brother, Jun Jie.

Johnson also pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and one count of dangerous operation causing bodily harm.

Zhu Li and Kussain, both 19-year-old international students at Centennial College’s Progress Campus from China and Kazakhstan, respectively, were killed just three days before Christmas in 2019.

Read more: 2 Centennial College students killed in Toronto crash involving alleged impaired driver

The teens and Zhu Li’s 21-year-old brother were walking back to the residence where they lived along Progress Avenue, just east of Markham Road, around 6:30 p.m. when the 2014 Mazda 3 Johnson was driving mounted the curb, and struck the three young men.

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Weijie and Damir were pronounced dead at the scene. Jun Jie suffered serious head injuries including lacerations to his face that required stitches to close.

“I wish it would bring my son back to me,” Kussain’s mother Gulzhan Bukharova said of the guilty plea.

According to the facts read out in court, Johnson, who works at a Canada Post building in the area, left work around 4:15 p.m. on Dec. 22, 2019, and drove to a nearby Jack Astor’s bar and restaurant, where he consumed several alcoholic drinks and ate some food with co-workers.

Around 6:15 p.m., he left the restaurant to go meet his wife. As he drove eastbound on Progress Avenue which is a posted 50 km/h zone, Johnson sped through the intersection, losing control of his Mazda, hitting the south curb, mounting the sidewalk, and striking the three pedestrians.

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2 Centennial College students killed in Toronto crash involving alleged impaired driver – Dec 23, 2019

Johnson’s car flipped over causing extensive damage before coming to rest.

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“Mr. Johnson was on his cellphone on hands-free mode with his wife at the time of the collision,” said Crown attorney Joshua Levy.

Johnson, who suffered minor injuries, remained at the scene.

When police, fire and paramedics arrived at the scene to investigate the crash and help the victims, Johnson spoke to a police officer who asked him if he had been drinking alcohol.

Read more: Friends of Centennial College students killed by alleged impaired driver reflect

Johnson denied he had been drinking but the officer smelt an odour of an alcohol on Johnson’s breath and demanded a breath sample.

Johnson complied with the demand and registered a fail. He was arrested for drinking and driving.

Once taken to Scarborough General Hospital, Johnson provided two breath samples to a Toronto police qualified breath technician.

The results were 112 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood at 9:27 p.m. and 111 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood at 9:49 pm.

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An expert in toxicology at the Centre for Forensic Sciences projected that at the time of the collision, Johnson’s blood alcohol concentration was between 120 to 170 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood. The legal limit is 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood.

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Toronto police also collected video surveillance and dashcam video that showed Johnson’s car driving very fast through the intersection before crashing.

The police seized the electronic data recorder which revealed that five seconds before the initial impact, the vehicle was travelling at 151 km/h and accelerated to 162 km/h 1.5 seconds before the crash. Johnson only applied his brakes half a second before impact.

Disturbing video showing the moments before the crash and the collision itself was shown at Johnson’s bail hearing on Dec. 23, 2019, when Johnson was initially denied bail but was not shown in court Wednesday.

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Madam Justice Jennifer Strasberg agreed those videos would be shown in court during what is expected to be a lengthy sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

Global News has learned that Johnson was granted bail and ordered to live under house arrest in the spring, with the condition that he not drive. In June, he was given a variation on his bail allowing him to go to work at Canada Post, in the company of a surety.

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Johnson will be back in court to set a date for sentencing at the end of the month.

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