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Motorist using cellphone convicted of dangerous driving

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A Winnipeg motorist who injured two people after running a red at a busy intersection while chatting on his cellphone has been convicted of criminal dangerous driving.

Provincial court Associate Chief Judge Janice leMaistre found Mahmud Osman Ali, 48, guilty of two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm today following a trial which thrust the perils of distracted driving into the spotlight.

Doug Litwin and his nephew were just about to cross Portage Avenue at Maryland Street with the "walk" sign on the afternoon of June 5, 2012 when Ali's van ran a red light and was struck by an SUV which moved east up Portage after the light turned green.

Ali's van skidded sideways then rolled after hitting the curb and then the pedestrians. Litwin, then 46, suffered serious injuries including several broken bones, a collapsed lung and torn ligaments, while his nephew, then 18, was left bruised and scraped-up.

Litwin may need further surgery to fix the damage done, court heard.

In an email from Toronto after the verdict, Litwin told the Free Press he hoped the court's decision would wake drivers up to put down the phones when behind the wheel.

"The verdict today doesn't change what happened to me or how the injuries will affect me the rest of my life," said Litwin.

"It does, however, now send a strong message to the public that cellphone use while driving can result in criminal charges and not just a traffic ticket," he said.

"I am hopeful the message sent today will go a long way in stopping other drivers from causing similar accidents in the future."

In her detailed and lengthy decision, leMaistre found Ali's manner of driving was a "marked departure" from the standard of care expected of reasonably prudent drivers given the circumstances.

"A reasonable person would have foreseen the risk of making a call on a cellphone when approaching a busy intersection on a red light," she said in convicting him.

Ali's conviction comes as a major win for prosecutors, which has seen the murky state of dangerous driving law in Canada result in several dangerous driving cases lost at trial in recent years.

Ali took the witness stand in his own defence and denied any wrongdoing. He told court he proceeded into the intersection but was blocked by a car ahead, forcing him to proceed on a red.

He also denied being on his phone, saying a passenger in the rear of the van had been using his device to call her son.

The cellphone was recovered by police from the driver's side area of the flipped-over van.

Phone records showed a 46-second call had been placed around the time of the noon-hour collision.

leMaistre ruled to reject Ali's defence testimony entirely, saying it was riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and was "self-serving."

She also shot down his claim that he was a "professional, responsible driver" who wouldn't even do so much as to talk to a passenger, let alone talk on his phone.

The eight civilian witnesses and two police officers who testified for the Crown, however, gave "clear, consistent and utterly credible" evidence, said the judge.

There was no evidence Ali was speeding.

Nonetheless, leMaistre agreed with a Winnipeg police traffic-collision reconstruction expert that if he'd been paying attention he may have been able to avoid or avert the crash by slowing down or stopping.

Vehicles were honking to alert him to what was happening, leMaistre found.

One witness described Ali's manner of driving as someone who was "oblivious" to his surroundings.

He had only received his regular driver's licence a few months prior to the crash, leMaistre said.

Ali is set to be sentenced in July.


Updated on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 5:42 PM CDT: Adds sentencing info.

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