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'He went completely off the rails'
Jesse Lewis's day began early on Oct. 17, 2018, with his mom calling the police.
Lewis, then 21 and out of jail for about a month, had taken his mom's mini-van without permission and was headed from Conception Harbour to Chapel's Cove.
An RCMP officer located Lewis on the road shortly thereafter, and Lewis flipped the officer the middle finger as he sped past him.
Over the next number of hours, police chased Lewis through different communities in Conception Bay South, catching up with him before he sped off, at one point asking an officer if he was going to be arrested, then saying, "I'm going to get a gun and point it at you and you're going to have to shoot me before I go back to jail."
Lewis stole a case of beer from a store, then stopped at a gas station and pumped $100 worth of fuel into the vehicle before driving away, ending up in the St. John's area around 10 a.m. Driving at speeds estimated at close to 150 km/h, forcing other drivers to pull over to avoid a collision and at times driving straight toward police vehicles, Lewis sped around the city, rear-ended a woman on Penneywell Road, struck four more vehicles in an intersection on Thorburn Road and crashed into a light pole near Austin Street.
Lewis then left his mother's van and approached two women in a car and demanded they get out. When they told him it was broken down, he approached a red Pontiac nearby. The mother of one of the women was in the vehicle with her three grandchildren, ages one, two and three.
Lewis wielded a screwdriver as he told the woman to get out. He attempted to drive away, but stopped when he learned there were children in the backseat, long enough for the three women to get them out.
Lewis struck another vehicle and stole more fuel — filling the tank, throwing the nozzle on the ground and leaving — before heading back toward Conception Harbour, with multiple complaints coming in to police about a dangerous driver all the while.
Police eventually chased Lewis back to his mother's home, where he rammed into another man's vehicle and threatened him with the screwdriver before running inside the house.
On Tuesday, Lewis pleaded guilty to 17 charges related to that day, with his own lawyer, Mark Gruchy, telling the court there was no explanation for Lewis's actions.
"Something's going on," Gruchy said, noting Lewis had been participating in addictions programs in prison, and acknowledging Lewis's tendency to make "impulsive, self-destructive decisions."
"It's very difficult to understand anything that has happened in these particular cases. It's sad. It seems Mr. Lewis went completely off the rails."
Gruchy called Bernard Hickey, a businessman and former mayor of Avondale, to the stand. Hickey spoke of having known Lewis since he was a young boy, with Lewis hanging around as he was building the Avondale speedway. Lewis was fixated on race cars, Hickey said, and wanted to help.
"A race track is a fantasy," Hickey said. "They go in and they race cars, they smash cars and flip cars. That's what they do, and spectators come in to watch. It seems there's an association there."
Hickey said Lewis was a good kid until he lost a close cousin to suicide, and never totally recovered.
"It seemed like after that, things fell apart for Jesse," Hickey said, growing emotional. "He needs to get his life back on track, and I think he will."
The court also heard a victim impact statement from the woman whose vehicle Lewis hijacked. In it, she spoke of having nightmares and of her three-year-old grandson suffering from anxiety as a result of the crime.
"My family and I will be doing a life sentence," the woman wrote.
Lewis had been in custody from April 21 to Sept. 25, 2018, awaiting trial for charges related to the shooting of a man outside Lewis's home. Lewis was acquitted of the shooting, with the judge determining he had acted in self-defence during a home invasion by Bernard Mason, who had forced his way inside in an intoxicated rage, putting his head through a cupboard and smashing a hole in a wall. Mason received non-life-threatening injuries to his leg.
In addition to the charges related to the crime spree on Oct. 18, Lewis pleaded guilty to assaulting three correctional officers in Her Majesty's Penitentiary on Oct. 22, as well as to a number of court order breaches in the preceding days. One of those was an order not to contact Mason.
Lewis had called Mason, who was working in Muskrat Falls at the time, and asked him, "You got a beef with me?"
"I'm taking responsibility for what I've done. It's the first time in my life that I've taken responsibility for anything." — Jesse Lewis
Gruchy and prosecutor Mike Murray presented a joint submission for five years in prison for Lewis, with Murray noting the serious nature of the crimes, particularly the carjacking, as well as Lewis's prior criminal record.
Lewis addressed the court directly, saying he had been suffering from anxiety and hadn't been prepared to be released from jail when he was acquitted of the shooting.
"I had so much anxiety, and that's not why this happened, but it led me to drinking and doing drugs," Lewis said, apologizing to the victims of his crimes.
"I'm taking responsibility for what I've done. It's the first time in my life that I've taken responsibility for anything. The other times I went to trial and they made people prove my guilt and I was usually acquitted, but I'm pleaded guilty here today."
Lewis asked Judge Colin Flynn to consider giving him the five-year sentence.
"In my opinion it's quite a bit of time for a 22-year-old, but I did a lot of stuff," Lewis said.
Flynn will render his sentencing decision on Thursday.