A former Winnipeg police officer convicted of killing a pedestrian in a hit-and-run told parole officials he was likely impaired at the time of the crash and fled the scene out of fear of reprisal.
A parole board hearing for Justin Holz is shedding new light on the circumstances surrounding the Oct. 10, 2017 collision on Main Street that claimed the life of 23-year-old Cody Severight. A copy of the written decision by the Parole Board of Canada was obtained by the Free Press.
Holz pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and was sentenced Oct. 30, 2019 to 2½ years in prison. Other charges, included impaired driving causing death, were stayed by the Crown as part of a plea deal.
He was granted full parole April 15, 2020.
Holz was drinking with colleagues at a downtown Winnipeg pub prior to the crash in 2017. Holz, who was off duty at the time, said he drank four pints of beer and felt pressured by his co-workers to stay longer than he intended.
In the decision, he acknowledged he was likely impaired at the time of the crash. However, Holz wasn’t administered a breathalyzer test for at least three hours after the deadly collision.
Severight was walking across Main near Sutherland Avenue shortly after 8 p.m. when Holz struck him, travelling between 76-79 km/h, court heard at Holz's sentencing hearing in 2019.
The impact broke Severight’s neck and fractured his skull; he died in hospital shortly after.
Holz fled the scene and drove north up Main to a parking lot on Red River Boulevard. He called police about 10 minutes after the crash.
Holz told the parole board he didn’t remain at the scene, just north of the Higgins Avenue underpass, because he was aware of assaults in the area.
"You told the board your decision to flee the scene was based on the location of the offence, near a known (gang) bar and the fact you were wearing a golf shirt that identified your affiliation to law enforcement," the decision said.
Details about the delayed breathalyzer test emerged in the weeks after the crash.
Two Winnipeg police officers were put on paid administrative leave following a probe of the incident by Manitoba’s Independent Investigation Unit. Holz told the parole board he didn’t know why there was a three-hour delay and that he had "no part" in requesting it.
As part of his parole, Holz was banned from driving for three years. He is also prohibited from drinking. It was recommended he be released to an undisclosed location instead of a halfway house due to safety concerns related to his career in law enforcement.
"Your use of alcohol prior to the offence impaired your judgment and limited your ability to safely operate your motor vehicle. Abstaining from alcohol is an important risk-management strategy that will reduce your risk to re-offend," the decision states.
During the hearing, Holz said he has maintained his sobriety and has not had a drink since the night of the crash, and that he has undergone counselling.
The board found Holz accepted responsibility for the hit-and-run and assessed him as a "low risk, low needs offender."
Holz said he was terminated from the Winnipeg Police Service and didn’t fight the decision, although police have never confirmed that.