A city pedestrian who suffered terrible injuries after a cellphone-using driver ran a red light at a busy intersection hopes a criminal conviction handed down Tuesday sends a clear signal to motorists:
Put down the phone or pay a stiff price. "The verdict today doesn't change what happened to me or how the injuries will affect me the rest of my life," Doug Litwin wrote in an email to the Free Press after learning Mahmud Ali, 48, was convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
"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," Litwin said.
"I am hopeful the message sent today will go a long way in stopping other drivers from causing similar accidents in the future."
Provincial court Associate Chief Judge Janice leMaistre found Ali guilty after a trial.
'The verdict today doesn't change what happened to me... It does, however, send a strong message to the public that cellphone use while driving can result in criminal charges'
The case thrust the perils of distracted driving under a legal spotlight.
Litwin and his nephew were about to cross Portage Avenue at Maryland Street with the "walk" sign on the afternoon of June 5, 2012, when Ali's southbound van ran a red light and was struck by an SUV that moved east on Portage after the light turned green.
The driver's view was blocked by a truck, so she didn't see Ali coming through the intersection.
That collision caused Ali's van to skid sideways, then roll over after hitting the curb and the pedestrians.
Litwin, then 46, suffered serious injuries including several broken bones, a collapsed lung and torn ligaments. His nephew, then 18, was bruised and scraped up. Litwin may need further surgery to fix the damage done, court heard.
LeMaistre found Ali's manner of driving was a "marked departure" from the standard of conduct expected by a reasonably prudent driver.
'A reasonable person would have foreseen the risk of making a call on a cellphone when approaching a busy intersection on a red light'
"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 ruled.
The conviction is a major win for Manitoba prosecutors. In recent years, they've lost several dangerous-driving cases at trial after judges found there was no "marked departure" from the norm in the accused driver's manner of driving.
Ali testified 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. That contradicted the Crown's witnesses, leMaistre ruled.
Ali also denied being on his cellphone, instead saying a passenger in the rear of the van had used his phone to call her son.
The cellphone was recovered by police from the driver's side of the flipped-over van.
Phone records showed a 46-second call had been placed around the time of the collision.
LeMaistre said Ali's testimony was riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and was "self-serving" at times. She also shot down his claim he was a "professional, responsible driver" who wouldn't even do so much as to talk to a passenger in a moving vehicle, let alone talk on his phone. He had received his regular driver's licence a few months prior to the crash.
The eight civilian witnesses and 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. A police traffic expert calculated his speed to be in the legal range of 50 kilometres per hour at the time of the collision.
LeMaistre agreed with a police traffic expert that if Ali had been paying attention, he might have been able to avoid the crash by slowing down or stopping.
Vehicles were honking to alert him to the danger, leMaistre found.
One witness described Ali's manner of driving as someone who was "oblivious" to his surroundings. Court heard it was a clear and sunny day and the pavement was dry.
LeMaistre said she was satisfied, Ali's manner of driving was dangerous to the public in the circumstances. Sentencing is set for July 22.
Admit it, do you still text and drive? Join the conversation in the comments below.