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Soo doctor dodges impaired driving charge with plea deal

Police did not initially publicize criminal charges against Dr. Mark Jenkins; he ultimately pleaded guilty to a non-criminal charge of careless driving
A doctor at the Group Health Centre, Mark Jenkins, was charged with three criminal counts after a head-on collision last year. Earlier this summer, Jenkins pleaded guilty to a single non-criminal charge of careless driving. Darren Taylor/SooToday

A police chase, a head-on collision and an elevated blood alcohol reading resulted in serious criminal charges against a local doctor — but he was granted a plea deal to a lesser Highway Traffic Act charge of careless driving, and his arrest was never disclosed to media.

Court documents show the arrest occurred shortly after 3 a.m. on Aug. 2, 2021, when a silver Tesla operated by Dr. Mark Jenkins was observed driving erratically and at a high rate of speed by Sault Ste. Marie police. After a short pursuit on Bruce St., the Tesla collided with a Dodge Ram pickup truck driving in the opposite direction.

When Jenkins emerged from his car, police say he told them: "I've had drinks." Officers noted "an odour of alcohol coming from his breath," and two subsequent breathalyzer tests showed Jenkins was over the legal limit.

Handcuffed at the scene, the 43-year-old was originally charged with three Criminal Code offences, including fleeing police, impaired driving, and having a blood alcohol concentration equal to or exceeding 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood.

But for reasons that remain unclear, police did not issue a press release about those charges — even though the department regularly discloses the names of people accused of impaired driving. As a result, the incident was not reported at the time by local news outlets, including SooToday.

Jenkins is a general practitioner at the Group Health Centre.

Lincoln Louttit, a spokesperson for Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, said it is department policy that impaired driving charges be disclosed to local media partners. “If information on charges and general details regarding this specific incident did not get released publicly, it was an oversight and an error,” he said in an email.

Jenkins retained Michael Lacy, a prominent Toronto lawyer, to defend him. Lacy proceeded to file numerous Charter challenges, alleging his client was "arbitrarily arrested," that police "lacked reasonable grounds" to administer a breathalyzer test, and that he was denied the opportunity to speak to a lawyer of his choosing.

Lacy also accused the police of "negligence" because photographs of the crash scene and radio communications from that morning were somehow lost. (In court documents, the Crown blamed "a technology issue affecting the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service" for the missing evidence.)

In the end, the prosecution and defence reached a deal: Jenkins would plead guilty to a lesser non-criminal charge of careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act, allowing him to dodge the impaired driving charge. In other words, he avoided a criminal record.

Instead, Jenkins was fined $2,000 (plus a 25 per cent victim surcharge) and ordered to install an ignition interlock device on his car, ensuring he cannot drive without first passing a breathalyzer test.

"To be clear, though, he's not acknowledging that he was impaired by alcohol or that he was over the legal limit, neither of which are obviously requirements for careless driving," Lacy said during a sentencing hearing on July 18, according to a transcript. "But he does accept that his manner of driving was careless in all the circumstances."

During the hearing, Lacy told Justice Romuald Kwolek that he and Crown Attorney Heidi Mitchell believe the plea agreement "is consistent with the principles of fundamental justice" and in "the public interest." Had the case gone to trial, he said, it would have involved "significant litigation" and "court resources."

"Thankfully, no one was injured in the accident," Lacy told the judge. "The Crown no doubt has also taken into account the following personal background circumstances of Mr. Jenkins: he's a professional that works in the community. He's otherwise a pro-social member of the community. He's 43 years old. He has no criminal record, nor to my knowledge, any related HTA record."

Before agreeing to the sentence, Justice Kwolek asked Jenkins if he wanted to speak. 

"Thank you, Your Honour," he replied. "Going forward, I will remember to work on my recovery everyday and my gratitude. And it's been — the last year — I'm going to be one year sober on Aug. 3 and I look forward to celebrating that matter with my AA host."

After agreeing to the sentence, the judge wished Jenkins good luck. "I'm glad to hear you're well on your way to maintaining your sobriety," he said. "I know it's not something you can just wave a magic wand and it will disappear, so I wish you all the best."

Lacy did not reply to a request for comment from SooToday.

Jenkins' guilty plea was first reported by local journalist Doug Millroy, whose column on the case was published yesterday by both SaultOnline and The Sault Star.

Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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