A 25-year-old off-duty Peel paramedic was “driving erratically like a psychopath” before allegedly crashing his Chrysler Sebring into Lake Ontario, killing a man he had met earlier that night, a witness for the Crown told a jury in an Orangeville courtroom on Tuesday.
Aaron Dobbs is on trial for failing to provide a breath sample, impaired operation and dangerous operation causing the death of 27-year-old Shawn Harpur, a Mississauga man whom he had met just hours earlier.
In his opening address, Crown attorney Nick Chiera told the jury that a 911 call was made just after 3 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2018, to attend a residence at 1 Maple Grove Drive in Oakville.
When officers arrived, they found Dobbs in the backyard. A police officer is expected to testify that Dobbs told him “you gotta save my brother. He’s in the water.”
Dobbs was taken into custody before officers headed to the bottom of Maple Grove Drive where they found a car partially submerged in Lake Ontario, at the bottom of the dead end street. The man who was missing, Shawn Harpur, was believed to be a passenger in the car. Harpur’s body was recovered from the lake later that day.
Ryan Chwalka, who was with Harpur and Dobbs until minutes before the deadly crash, told the court that he and Harpur had been drinking at the Clarkson Bar and Grill in Mississauga when Dobbs, a stranger, arrived around midnight.
It was closing time so Chwalka said he offered Dobbs one of the beer he had already purchased. Dobbs told them he was a paramedic.
Chwalka told the jury that he and Harpur left the bar and got into Dobbs’ car, at first going for cigarettes before stopping at Chwalka’s apartment for 20 minutes, then driving onto Wally’s Diner and later stopping at a gas station.
Along the way, Chwalka testified that they all drank, but remembered Dobbs having a beer to a beer-and-a-half at Clarkson Bar and Grill, a beer at Wally’s, roughly four shots of vodka while driving and had a small amount of cocaine with Chwalka and Harpur after stopping at the gas station.
“I remember him asking for drugs and banging on the steering wheel prior to us giving it to him,” Chwalka testified.
During cross-examination, defence Lawyer Peter Willis said there were inconsistencies in Chwalka’s testimony between statements he gave police and the preliminary hearing suggesting that Chwalka was too intoxicated to remember.
Chwalka described Dobbs’ driving as erratic, describing how he went over a curb and was driving into opposite lanes of traffic.
“I expressed wanting out,” said Chwalka referring to text messages he was sending to a friend confirming his fears.
Chwalka said he became more concerned after Dobbs stopped near a commercial building and “proclaimed he was going to murder 23 people in that building.”
Chwalka said Harpur took the keys out of the ignition but Dobbs got frustrated and demanded the keys back. Chwalka said the three got back into the car and knowing he was nervous, Harpur tried to convince Dobbs to pull over and let him out.
“He stopped to let me get out. Saying, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t take you on this mission. I can’t take you hostage anymore.’ He was being apologetic, he hugged me, he kissed me and left,” Chwalka testified, saying as he got out of Dobbs’ car, he asked Harpur to come with him but Harpur said, “It’s fine, he can take care of me.”
The following morning at 10:12 am, police knocked on Chwalka’s door.
Chwalka testified he met an officer who said, “Ryan Chwalka? Thank goodness you’re alive.”
Chwalka said he was asked if he had been out with Aaron Dobbs the night before and told him yes, and was then informed his friend was missing.
Chwalka said the officer showed him the Google map detailing where the car had gone into the lake and was told it happened just after 3 a.m. Chwalka said pictures of the Chrysler Sebring he had seen coming out of the lake on Global News had left him traumatized.
Willis suggested that Chwalka was trying to invent facts because he felt responsible for what happened that day.
“No actually, I don’t. I know who’s responsible. I know he murdered someone. He had just been talking about murdering 23 people. I get out of a vehicle and then he drives directly south on Maple Grove, breaking a metal barrier into the lake. In my head, he committed murder,” said Chwalka.
Dobbs, who is out on bail and is suspended with pay pending the outcome of the trial, has pleaded not guilty. The trial continues.