Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Graduation of chronic teen car thief a happy occasion - for public

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Gene Soldat just had his graduation on Thursday - but something tells me he isn't exactly celebrating.The chronic car thief - considered to be one of the worst in the city - just got an adult-sized dose of punishment after being raised from youth court.Queen's Bench Justice Karen Simonsen likely won a few supporters in the community when she rejected Soldat's plea for leniency and handed down a five-year prison term.Simonsen says she hopes other young criminals take notice.Her decision comes just days after the city's latest tragic case of auto theft, in which an innocent cab driver was killed after a speeding, stolen vehicle filled with youths ran a red light.Soldat has been a potential time bomb every time he's on the streets.He racked up a staggering 82 youth convictions over the past six years, nearly all for stealing cars and putting public safety at risk.Yet under the weak-kneed Youth Criminal Justice Act, Soldat's prior stints in jail were short and likely pretty sweet.His most recent crime spree in 2006 involved a string of car thefts, capped up by a high-speed police chase in which he drove over boulevards, ran stop signs and red lights and drove into oncoming traffic while going more than 30 km/h over the speed limit.Anyone in his path could have been killed.Soldat went on this rampage just days after escaping from a youth jail, where he was supposed to be serving a brief period of custody for similar offences.Soldat's lawyer has consented to the Crown's move to have him raised to adult court. That opened the door for his name to be made public for the first time, along with his previous criminal history.Now, we're likely fooling ourselves if we think Soldat will come out of jail in a few years a changed man. That's probably wishful thinking.But if nothing else, his prison stint means there's one less maniac on the road we have to worry about for a while.Soldat's has already left a trail of destruction behind, making headlines last year when Manitoba Public Insurance obtained a $110,000 judgment against him following one of the city's worst property crime sprees in recent history that involved several other young co-accused.In just the span of a few weeks beginning in late 2004, the boys were responsible for stealing five cars -- three of which were written off -- and damaging 38 others, including a police car that was destroyed in a high-speed crash.They also sent one car smashing through the window of an empty River Heights apartment block by pinning down the accelerator with a brick -- an incident the building realtor described as an act of “terrorism.” A resident ended up trapped in the rubble of his own washroom when the roof collapsed.Soldat and his crew also sent another car into a house, startling the sleeping resident and causing extensive damage.The group also left numerous senior citizens in tears by targeting an underground parking lot in North Kildonan for most of their senseless acts of vandalism on Boxing Day 2004.Soldat, who court was told acted as “ringleader” for all the destruction, received a total of one year in jail and six months of probation for his involvement. His younger co-accused received shorter stints behind bars.It was while still serving that sentence in 2006 that Soldat reoffended for the crimes he was now sentenced on. He'd been granted a temporary absence from the youth jail so he could work during the days but return at night.Soldat was gone within three days.Kudos to Justice Simonsen for not buying Soldat's "I promise to change" tale and dishing out some substantial punishment.Let's hope it's a sign of more to come from our justice system.Got a thought? Post it below.

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About Mike McIntyre

Journalist, national radio show host, author, pundit and cruise director ... Mike McIntyre loves to keep busy.

Mike is the justice reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, where he has worked since 1997. He produces and hosts the weekly talk radio show Crime and Punishment, which runs on the Corus Radio Network in several Canadian cities.

Born and bred in Winnipeg, Mike graduated from River East Collegiate and completed his journalism studies in the Creative Communications program at Red River College.

He and his wife, Chassity, have two children.

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