Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police disappointed province dropped cellphone case

Couple denies owning device police ticketed them for using

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Despite the Crown staying the charge, Winnipeg police are steadfast in their position that a charge against an elderly couple accused of using a cellphone while driving was valid.

The case against Laszlo Piszker for driving while using a cellphone -- a charge that caught the attention of the city -- was quietly dropped by the Crown this week.

"The Winnipeg Police Service remains supportive of the two involved member’s actions that day," a police spokesman said Friday.

"The service, along with the two members, are extremely disappointed with the decision and feel that this matter should have proceeded to trial, giving the court an opportunity to determine the outcome."

The decision by Manitoba Justice means Piszker and his wife Margaret will be spared fighting the case at trial and trying to convince a magistrate they're innocent. They say they didn't own a cellphone then, don't own one now and will most likely never own one.

"Today was a very good day," Laszlo said Thursday. "I had no phone and I stand by that all the way. To this day there is no phone."

"This is just a total relief," Margaret added. "We're just so happy it's over."

Laszlo said the whole episode could have been avoided if the officers who ticketed them back in March had simply searched him and his wife.

"I would've opened my purse," Margaret added. "They could have looked in my pockets. We were trying to tell them we didn't have a phone, but all they wanted to do was write a ticket."

Police cited 'contradictory' information

Last March 2, Laszlo, 74, was ticketed in the 2500 block of Portage Avenue while he and Margaret, 73, were returning from lunch at the Olive Garden.

A day after the story first appeared in the Free Press, Winnipeg police issued a statement in support of officers who ticketed Piszker, a retired machinist, saying they had reviewed the incident and had "information that is contradictory to the information that has been depicted in the local media."

The department said the officers saw "a male driver of a vehicle with a cellphone held to his ear. Officers were seven to eight feet away from the driver when this was observed."

Police also said the driver didn't stop for several blocks after police turned on their cruiser's flashing lights and attempted to pull the vehicle over. The driver was then ticketed.

With the Crown's decision to stay the charge, the police case will never be made public.

Manitoba Justice spokesman Glen Cassie issued only this statement: "In every case, the Crown will consider whether there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and whether it's in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution. If either or both tests are not met, the Crown will not proceed and the charge will be stayed."

'We do not have a phone'

Len Eastoe of Traffic Ticket Experts, who was handling the case for the Piszkers, said he believes the Crown dropped its case because there was no hope of a conviction. The trial date was set for Dec. 4.

"I thought it was something not even worth proceeding with," Eastoe said. "It saves this couple a lot of grief. They were getting very stressed about things."

Margaret said she and her husband were worried about having to go to court. "I was just dreading going there," she said. "It's been a stressful year. This happened last March and it's been on our minds since then.

"For a lot of older people it's a stressful thing going downtown and having to find parking to go to a court. It's a lot of stress. I know it's silly -- it's just a ticket -- it's also the principle of the thing. We do not have a phone."

The couple said they're grateful for the support from Winnipeggers over the past year. They said they also support police ticketing people who use mobile devices when driving -- when justified. "We were just so angry because it was so ludicrous," Margaret said.

"We didn't have a phone. We've never had one. We still haven't got one for that matter and I doubt we ever will after this."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2012 A4

History

Updated on Friday, November 30, 2012 at 1:24 PM CST: Adds comment from police

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