Friday, September 19, 2014

Abbott and Costello come to a Winnipeg courtroom!

Good Day Readers:

For being so stupid both should have been convicted. Manitoba Public Insurance is going to have fun sorting out this one!

Clare L. Pieuk
Two men acquitted in drunk driving case

Tough to know who was behind wheel: Judge

Mike McKntyre
Friday, September 19, 2014

It was a drunk-driving crash with a strange twist -- police say two drivers were behind the wheel of the suspect vehicle.

Both Winnipeg men walked free after a judge ruled there's too much confusion about the circumstances of the incident to safely convict either of them.

The Free Press obtained a written decision from Court of Queen's Bench Justice Karen Simonsen that outlines the February 2011 incident and her recent not-guilty verdicts.

Ajit Harry was allegedly driving a Honda when it ran a red light and slammed into a Suzuki at the intersection of Bishop Grandin Boulevard and Dakota Street. His friend and passenger, Rajinder Ganda, was accused of switching places with him once they had come to a stop about 450 metres away.

Harry and Ganda were arrested near the scene, thanks largely to several witnesses who chased down their slow-moving vehicle and held them for police.

Harry was charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm against both Ganda and the female driver of the Suzuki, who both suffered minor injuries. And the wounded and extremely intoxicated Ganda was charged with driving over .08 for being in the driver's seat after the fact.

During his testimony, Harry denied ever driving the car -- which belonged to his mother -- saying Ganda was to blame for the crash.

None of the witnesses could say with certainty it was Harry in the driver's seat at the moment of impact.

Harry denied being intoxicated, saying his eyes were bloodshot as a result of the "noxious fumes" that came from the airbag deploying.

He also blamed his slurred speech on stress connected to head trauma he'd suffered in a decade-old accident. Harry did admit to hiding a half-empty bottle of vodka that was inside the car, which he claimed Ganda had consumed.

"Some aspects of Harry's evidence are concerning," Simonsen wrote in her decision. "Parts of his evidence, while not incredible, seemed somewhat convenient."

She also noted Ganda's blood was found all over the passenger side of the car -- not the driver's side. Still, the judge said she was left with no choice but to acquit Harry based on the high standard of proof needed to convict because "the totality of the defence evidence raises a reasonable doubt as to whether Harry was the driver."

That wasn't the only problem.

"Even if the Crown could establish that Harry was the driver, Harry's evidence raises a reasonable doubt on the issue of impairment," said Simonsen.

As for Ganda, there were similar issues. Witnesses said he was behind the wheel for a very short period following the crash, but not before or during it as Harry had claimed. And the car never moved. The judge said there were doubts whether Ganda ever had "care and control" of the vehicle or simply slid into the driver's seat in his drunken, injured state.

One of the bystanders who chased the duo down described it as follows: "Ganda was belligerent and rude, and he had slurred speech. He had blood on his shirt in the chest area. He got out of the vehicle and was staggering. At one point, he sat in the driver's seat."

When police arrived, both men were standing outside the car. Ganda was swearing at Harry, telling him "not to say anything." Police initially treated him as the driver, and blood-alcohol tests showed he was at .37 -- close to five times over the legal limit.

No blood-alcohol tests were done on Harry.

Ganda never admitted wrongdoing, and without any witnesses blaming him -- aside from his co-accused, Harry -- the judge ruled it would be dangerous to convict.

"Ganda was in the (driver's seat) for only about 10 or 15 seconds. He had just been involved in an accident," Simonsen wrote.

"When I consider all of the evidence, I am satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that Ganda did not intend to set the Honda in motion."

The Crown has until next week to choose whether to appeal Simonsen's decision. To date, no paperwork has been filed with the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2014 B3

The Decision


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