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Perspective: Chill. Thrill. Kill.

A night in the life of Winnipeg's car-stealing subculture

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/3/2009 (3890 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/3/2009 (3890 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

 Tony Lanzellotti’s cab, right, and the stolen Avalanche at Portage Avenue and Maryland Street one year ago.

SHAUN MCLEOD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Tony Lanzellotti’s cab, right, and the stolen Avalanche at Portage Avenue and Maryland Street one year ago.

One year ago, just after 3:30 a.m. on March 30, 2008, two speeding, stolen cars and a taxi came together in a screeching heap of twisted metal on Portage Avenue at Maryland Street. Since the crash, Mike McIntyre, Bruce Owen and James Turner have followed court proceedings and dug into the backgrounds of the 16 people involved — a taxi driver, his passenger and 14 car thieves, all but one of them under 18 — to produce this anniversary account. Because the law forbids identification of juvenile offenders, the names and images of the 14 criminals — the adult among them is related to one of the other thieves — are fabrications.
  Everything else, to the best of our knowledge and abilities, is the truth.
 

I
T was a half-hour before sunrise when the car thieves spotted their quarry on Niagara Street in Winni­peg’s prosperous neighbourhood of River Heights.

It was a 2005 Chevy Avalanche LT, a vehicle that car thieves and insurers alike know for an easy grab. This Avalanche had come equipped with a factory-installed anti-theft device, but the protection had already turned out to be illusory in July 2006, when the sport-utility vehicle was stolen. Recovered and returned by police, it was on Manitoba Public Insurance's list of high-risk vehicles ordered to have an immobilizer installed. The owners had made plans to have the work done, but they hadn't yet taken the Chevy into the shop.

Now it was too late.

A matter of seconds after the young thieves spotted the Avalanche, it was gone.

It was 7 a.m. on Friday, March 28, 2008, and a tragedy had been set in motion.

"ö "ö "ö

 

Even more brazen was the next grab.

It was 1:30 Friday afternoon on Rosedale Avenue, in the Riverside district of Fort Rouge, about five kilometres east of the site of the Niagara Street theft.

Lyle Reid couldn't believe it, but somehow, in broad daylight, his 2005 Chevy Silverado had been stolen right off his driveway.

"It's parked in the driveway in the middle of the day... and then it's gone," said Reid. "They didn't even break a window. There was no glass. They knew exactly what they were doing."

Reid had bought the vehicle in 2004 and didn't have an immobilizer installed.

The Silverado wasn't on MPI's list of high-risk vehicles, but it had evidently been not much of a challenge for the thieves.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

Police were notified about the missing Avalanche and Silverado and the theft reports were added to the pile of other similar ones that had come in during the past 48 hours.

Then, due to the large volume of stolen vehicles in the "Car Theft Capital of Canada," police don't have the resources to actively patrol the streets looking for each and every one. But all licence numbers are flagged in the system and police regularly run checks of plates they observe, stopping any that come up as stolen.

Actually, the numbers had become a lot more manageable in the weeks leading up to these particular thefts — Winnipeg police had seen several days of only single-digit attempts and thefts. In the months of January, February and March 2008, thefts were down 36 per cent, 40 per cent and 55 per cent compared to the same period in 2007. Attempted thefts had also plunged by 60 per cent, 55 per cent and 40 per cent.

Police cited two key factors — owners were taking greater steps to secure their vehicles and officers were focusing on arresting and detaining chronic auto thieves through their suppression program.

Investigators with the stolen auto unit weren't about to declare victory just yet — they knew the numbers could easily fluctuate with a few bail releases or completed jail sentences.

Police had also seen a recent spike in cases where thieves had tried to deliberately engage them in chases, often mocking and taunting officers. There had also been a handful of incidents where police cars were rammed, and officers knew that every stolen vehicle on the street was a potential killer.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

It was about 3 o'clock the next morning that the stolen cars were next spotted.

A resident on Edmonton Street, south of Broadway, woke up to a cacophony of shouting, laughter and smashing metal. Across the street, outside 61 Edmonton St., the neighbour counted 14 young people — five girls and nine males — drinking, smoking pot and amusing themselves by smashing up three stolen cars: the Silverado, the Avalanche and a Volkswagen Jetta.

 

The Jetta had run out of gas and had a flat tire, but the revellers were taking turns at the wheel with the other two cars, running them into one another and into the side of the apartment block.

The police dispatcher broadcast the incident over the internal police radio and a downtown cruiser car team radioed back that they were nearby and on the way.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

Minutes later, some kilometres to the northwest, Antonio Lanzellotti pulled up in front of the McPhillips Street Station in his Duffy's cab.

David Heller, who worked at the casino, had just finished his shift. A taxi chit in his pocket — Manitoba Lotteries gives late-night workers a free cab ride home — Heller climbed into Lanzellotti's cab for the ride to his home in southwest Winnipeg.

Lanzellotti enjoyed chatting with his passengers, and he and Heller talked about life working in a casino as they went down McPhillips and turned left onto Notre Dame Avenue, both streets quiet at that time of night. The Italian-born cabbie — he'd moved to Winnipeg in 1960, when he was seven — enjoyed people and nightlife. He'd been part owner of Las Vegas Amusements downtown across from The Bay, where he worked for about 20 years. It's now Bourbon Street Billiards.

"He was a hippie," said his younger brother Al. "He grew up listening to the Beatles. John Lennon and peace. He loved the '60s."

Times had been tough recently. He'd bounced between jobs, driving a long-distance semi, working as a security guard and, for the last two months, driving for Duffy's.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

It was a motley group out in front of 61 Edmonton. The oldest of the thieves and joyriders was Tyler Fontaine, who was 20 years old and a hard case. A couple of years earlier, he'd been charged with murder, but pleaded the charge down to assault causing bodily harm. He hadn't planned on tagging along with this younger crowd, but his 15-year-old cousin, Logan Douglas, had talked him into it. Logan had come to Winnipeg to continue his schooling, but found street life more fun. School, he told friends, "feels like jail." He got into the Mad Cowz, a mostly African street gang.

The youngest of the crowd was Elijah Zikhali, 14. His extended family immigrated from East Africa. Several of his older cousins are in jail. They've had frequent run-ins with police for violent acts including drive-by shootings and firebombings. But Elijah didn't have a criminal record.

Yet.

Dawn Sinclair was another participant who'd wandered haphazardly into the scene. Earlier that night, 16-year-old Dawn and her friend Chantal Robideaux, 17, had planned to go downtown to a birthday party of a mutual friend. Trouble was, they didn't have cab fare. So Chantal phoned a boy she knew, who usually had wheels — stolen, of course. Chantal was a car-thief groupie. She had a record dating back four years, to when she was 13, including three auto-theft-related charges.

Sure enough, her friend had a ride — a stolen Silverado.

He picked up Dawn and Chantal up Chantal's West End home, took them to the hotel, and told them he'd be back to pick them up.

He was as good as his word, and showed up at the hotel, still in the stolen Silverado. On their way home, he stopped at a parking lot on Edmonton Street, where some friends and associates had gathered to show off their recent acquisitions — a stolen Avalanche and a stolen Jetta. Dawn didn't know anybody at the scene except Chantal, and the two girls decided to walk home. But their driver persuaded them to stay. Dawn, an alcoholic and the daughter of crack cocaine addicts, admits she doesn't make good decisions when she's drunk.

Perhaps the oddest presence in this pack of dead-enders was Tiffany Lebeau, 16. She came from a loving home with both parents in the picture. She was not, for example, like Dylan Parker, also 16. Dylan has been a Child and Family Services ward for the past several years. He's probably got Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, judging by the way he looks and behaves. But his alcoholic mother won't discuss her history, so he can't be diagnosed and treated, not that there's much medical science can do.

Nor was Tiffany like the Chartrand brothers, Terry and Jerry. Terry, a street-gang member since he was 11, liked the life because it meant plenty of booze and drugs. He was 15. Jerry was 17. Being two years older, he had a longer gang affiliation than Terry, but otherwise, their lives were similar.

No, Tiffany had more choices than most of the crowd. But what she'd chosen was to lie to her parents and hang out all night with boys who steal cars. She had a reputation with city police of being one of the worst female offenders in Winnipeg's relatively small but constantly active car-stealing subculture.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

Lanzellotti and his passenger, David Heller, passed the Health Sciences Centre and turned right, onto Maryland Street. Their route would take them down Maryland to the Maryland Bridge, along Academy Road for a few blocks and then left onto Stafford Street towards Heller's home. Heller was on the passenger's side of the back seat, rather than directly behind the cabbie.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

As the police cruiser turned on to Edmonton, one of the group spotted its tell-tale roofline and sounded the alarm. The youths scrambled for the cars.

Young Elijah Zikhali was at the wheel of the Avalanche. Marilyn Collins scrambled in after him. So did Tiffany, the privileged suburban kid who liked to hang out with car thieves. Logan Douglas and his 20-year-old cousin crammed in. John Hudson, only 15 but already with a record of dealing crack and possessing an illegal firearm, jumped in behind his buddy Logan Douglas. Like Logan, Hudson was an aboriginal member of the African-dominated Mad Cowz. He's got out of the Manitoba Youth Centre a few weeks before. Helena Martin, 15, got the last seat in the crowded Avalanche. Dylan Parker, the CFS ward with the look of an FASD sufferer, grabbed the Avalanche door but was too late. He jumped into the Silverado.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

Steve Cotter, 16, was at the wheel of the Silverado. Though the auto-theft subculture was his life, Steve had just one auto-theft conviction on his record. Dawn and Chantal, the two girls who'd called a car thief because they didn't have cab fare, hopped in with him. The Chartrand brothers jumped in too. Terry, the younger of the two, boasted of membership in the MOB crew. Some say it stands for Most Organized Brothers, others that it means Money Over B—ches. Like Dylan Parker, he had the characteristics of FASD, though unlike Dylan, he also had the diagnosis.

The last of the seven was Bill Robinson, 14. Robinson was loosely affiliated with the Native Syndicate gang. The only other person in the group he knew well was Marilyn Collins, who was in the Avalanche with young Elijah at the wheel. Bill and Marilyn were alike in that, even in this group, they stood out for their irresponsibility. They simply did not give a damn. Both have worn the ankle bracelet designed to keep tabs on probation cases; both have been caught sawing them off. Bill had a decent family, with supportive parents, but he was too lazy for school and had a record for auto theft and curfew breach.

Abandoning the wrecked Jetta, the 14 revellers peeled away from the scene, packed seven to a car. Wheel to wheel, with their passengers whooping and laughing and passing the bottles, Elijah and Steve gunned the stolen cars up Edmonton, shaking off the cruiser car, and wheeled left on Portage Avenue.

They whipped past another cruiser that flashed its emergency lights, signalling them to pull over. Instead, both young drivers trod down hard on the gas and disappeared west, past the University of Winnipeg. The needle passed 100 km/h and then Steve threw the Silverado into a right-hand turn, north up Young Street. Behind the two stolen cars, the cruiser broke off the chase. Even on the virtually deserted streets at 3:30 a.m., it was too dangerous.

Elijah kept his foot to the floor and his passengers screamed with their glee and excitement. They had the sunroof open, even on a chilly March morning. Bill Robinson cranked up the radio. With the music blasting and the passengers whooping and laughing, and with the 14-year-old driver a bit high, a bit drunk and zipped on adrenaline, the Avalanche made the street signs look like a deck of flip cards. Spence, Young, Langside and Furby whipped by in a blur. By Sherbrook, Elijah had the Avalanche doing 138 km/h.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

Coming south down Maryland, Lanzellotti saw the light was green. He touched the gas as he neared the intersection.

He had just seconds to live.

Elijah hit him at almost 140 km/h, nearly running over the top of the cab. Lanzellotti probably died instantly. Certainly, he had no vital signs when the ambulance arrived and he was pronounced dead when it got him to the Health Sciences Centre. The Avalanche flipped on its side, skidding on the pavement until its wreckage slammed into a concrete planter. Tyler Fontaine hurtled through the open sunroof, rolling on the pavement. Andrew Go, who was working the overnight shift at the Shell gas station on the north side of Portage, just west of Maryland, heard the crash and rushed outside in time to see Fontaine, amazingly, try to get to his feet. An oncoming car, swerving to avoid the wreckage of the cab and the Avalanche, ran him down. Again, Fontaine stayed conscious.

"He was crawling over the median. He was cold and shaking. He couldn't breathe," said Go.

Heller crawled out of what was left of the cab, making his way down the street on all fours. His face and eyes were filled with glass and blood. Ambulances, police and firefighters, responding to slew of 911 calls, were arriving. Paramedics loaded Heller into an ambulance.

In shock, he pleaded with the medics to go through his pockets and find the cab chit from the casino. He wanted to be sure Lanzellotti got paid.

Elijah, rammed up against the steering wheel, was in critical condition. An ambulance rushed him to Children's Hospital. Logan, in the back seat, had arm and chest injuries, but he was able to kick out a window and flee the scene along with two others. Police located him a day later and rushed him to Children's Hospital. Interviewed by police, with his mother present, he admitted only to being in the back seat of the Avalanche. He was drunk and hadn't known the car was stolen, he said.

Three of the passengers — reports vary on whom — had bumps and bruises and were arrested at the scene.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

So police had five people in custody, two of them badly injured and all of them contemptuous of authority. But the Winnipeg car-theft culture, though alarmingly active, is not very large. A few offenders account for the vast majority of the mayhem, which is why it ebbs and flows according to how many of them happen to be locked up at any given time. So the investigators started with a pretty good idea of who might have been involved.

John Hudson, the 15-year-old sometime crack dealer, turned out to be the key. Battered and bruised in the crash but not seriously injured, he was arrested at the scene. He gave the police three statements which yielded enough information to identify Elijah, who was easy to find because he was in Children's Hospital. The statements also led police to Steve Cotter, the driver of the stolen Silverado, and within a few days, the investigators had 14 names.

The police were worried that his former Mad Cowz associates would track him down, and they arranged for him to go up north to a remote fly-in community to await trial.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

Elijah was charged with manslaughter, a sign the province may be raising the ante for deaths caused by stolen vehicles. In the past, charges of criminal negligence causing death or careless driving causing death have typically been levied.

Steve Cotter, the other driver, was charged with dangerous driving.

The other 12 were charged with possession of goods obtained by crime. Several were also found to be out on bail at the time, so they were charged with the likes of breaching a court order.

Crown attorney Liz Pats took control of the prosecution.

She had at least 10 videotaped police statements and 1,200 pages of disclosure for lawyers. She also had a problem with witnesses being intimidated, not a total surprise when there were three street gangs — MOB, Native Syndicate and Mad Cowz — implicated.

"We have a whole lot of phone calls going on telling people to keep their mouths shut," she told a Free Press reporter.

Some of the group had quickly turned on each other and given full statements to police. Others were refusing to co-operate.

Marilyn Collins, a passenger in the Avalanche, laughed when police told her Lanzellotti, the cab driver, had been killed.

"He had to die some time anyway," she said. "Wrong time, wrong place. It's not like it's a big deal anyways."

Taken aback, an investigator asked: Are you serious?

"I am goddamn f—king serious," she spat back. "I don't care that he's dead. People die every day."

Logan Douglas seemed to take the tragedy more seriously. His cousin Tyler, the man who had been flung through the sunroof and then run over, was in hospital in an induced coma. Tyler's injuries seemed to focus Logan's mind and bring on something akin to remorse.

Logan had a better family than most of the group — a retired Mountie for a grandfather, an uncle who is band chief in his home community and a father who is a band councillor at the same place. Logan, who was raised by his grandmother, returned to that community to await his trial.

But one night, he went to a party on the reserve that turned violent. He says three youths attacked him, that he escaped by jumping out a window, and that the three chased him down. Logan pulled out a knife and stabbed one of them. He also cracked the man over the head with a billiard ball in a sock. He was returned to the Manitoba Youth Centre.

Dawn Sinclair, one of the birthday party girls, was also able to give at least the appearance of remorse. "I was in a stolen car and something really bad happened to someone innocent just doing their job," she told police." I should never have gotten into it."

And so the cases were built and, mostly, prosecuted.

Because all the car thieves except Tyler Fontaine were under 18, their cases fell under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. One of its precepts is that every effort should be made to rehabilitate children gone bad. That is why their real names can't be published and why their sentences may seem mild, given the mayhem they created that night a year ago.

Three of the 14 have yet to come before the court. Elijah Zikhali's manslaughter trial has been set for June. Until then, he'll stay in custody, which is where he's been since he recovered from his injuries. Jerry Chartrand, the elder of the two brothers who were in the Silverado, the car that veered off on Young Street, also has his trial pending. Like most of the 14, he is charged with possession of goods obtained by crime.

That's the same charge faced by the lone adult in the group, Tyler Fontaine. His trial, too, is pending.

Helena Martin, who was in the Avalanche, pleaded guilty to possession of stolen goods, but has not yet been sentenced. The judge ordered a report to examine her background and offer suggestions on how to keep her out of trouble. She's in the community, on bail, while that task is carried out.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

The other cases have a numbing sameness. What can a defence lawyer say? The client was "in the wrong place at the wrong time." That's a commonplace excuse. So is, "she got in with the wrong crowd." Usually, they're sorry. And it's not going to happen again.

Marilyn Collins, the girl who laughed when police told her Lanzellotti was dead, didn't show any change in attitude.

Provincial court Judge Ron Meyers was repulsed, saying he was disgusted by watching the "cold and dispassionate" teen in a videotaped police interview.

"I saw a girl who revelled in her smugness," Meyers said in court. "However, I'm limited in the dispositions available to me. There's a limit to the penalties that can be imposed for people with bad attitudes."

Meyers said probation was the only available sentence, noting the girl has already spent more than two months in jail, which exceeds the penalties under the YCJA for these types of offences.

A psychiatric report found the girl is still blaming others — including media reports that surfaced after her guilty plea — and said the girl is likely just beginning a lengthy "catch-and-release" routine with the courts. The doctor noted that just hours after being released on bail after entering her guilty plea in April, she ran away from home and breached her court-ordered curfew. Fortunately, her mother called police and turned the girl in.

"I know I did a bad thing. And I know it's bad to say, but sometimes it's fun," she told her probation officer after her arrest.

Meyers imposed 11 conditions on her, including orders to attend addictions counselling, abstain from drugs and alcohol and stay out of motor vehicles. She was also ordered to wear an electronic ankle bracelet. Within days she was re-arrested twice and was caught trying to saw off the anklet. She had also posted photos of her online making jokes about the fatal crash.

"Holy, can't get enouugh of me," the teen quipped in a post reacting to the media attention. "(Expletive) deaaadly" she wrote beneath another picture of the crumpled cab.

At one hearing, court was told the girl's behaviour may be the result of the suicide of a close friend months earlier. The 14-year-old girl had killed herself after jumping off a sixth-floor balcony after becoming distraught while at a West Kildonan house party.

Even Marilyn's parents — described as honest, hard-working and caring people — couldn't explain what was going on.

"I'm flabbergasted," said the mother, who vowed to continue turning her daughter in to police in an attempt to practise some "tough love." The woman works as a guidance counsellor, while her husband works with people affected by fetal alcohol syndrome.

Marilyn managed one apology. "I know I've made a lot of mistakes. And I probably should have said this a long time ago, but I'm sorry," she said at a sentencing hearing last fall.

She was re-arrested just after Christmas on another breach of her conditions. She was sentenced March 4 to time in custody and remains free in the community.

Logan Douglas told the judge he was sorry and that he wants to return home to be with his family, including his cousin, and stay away from the thug life in Winnipeg. For good.

"The gang issue is huge," Crown attorney Liz Pats told court. "He was involved with the Mad Cowz. By all accounts the accounts aren't settled because he still owes them money. They're just not going to just let that go. Once you owe a Mad Cow money it's not going to be a written-off debt."

There have been threats to his life and to his family from the Mad Cowz, his lawyer told the hearing.

Pats noted that after Logan was sent back to the youth centre, following the stabbing incident back home on the northern reserve, he gave up his gang patch and didn't get involved in gang beats while he was in custody at the youth centre. His lawyer told court his client was a good kid most of his life. He just made a couple of bad decisions after he moved to Winnipeg to go to high school and started hanging out with the wrong kids.

"It's been really, really hard on him and really difficult for his family," his lawyer told the judge, saying the boy missed Christmas at home because he was locked up in the youth centre.

Logan got 18 months of supervised probation.

When Tiffany Lebeau showed up to plead guilty to possession of stolen goods, she wheeled herself into court in a wheelchair. She'd broken her pelvis in the crash, she explained. Three weeks later, free while awaiting sentencing, she was caught in another stolen car.

"This broken pelvis, it was a miraculous recovery," Pats dryly noted. Tiffany was released again and got caught twice more for breaking curfew.

"I'm sorry," she pouted at her sentencing hearing.

"Give your head a shake," said Judge Meyers. He said the best thing will be for Tiffany to turn 18 so she can be locked up.

She's going to have to learn," said Meyers. "Sooner or later they turn 18. Sooner or later they're adults and they're in penitentiaries. That's what she's looking forward to. That's going to be her life."

But until then, the YCJA rules. Meyers sentenced her to two years of supervised probation.

John Hudson's lawyer, Jackson Mugerwa, said his client is smarter than most street thugs, has a loving mother and is a talented football player. The problem is he doesn't have a proper father figure at home and is a victim of racism.

"He's so deeply entrenched in the life of a gang member," Pats said at his sentencing hearing after the youth pleaded guilty to possession of goods obtained by crime, and to breaches of court orders. "This is a young man who seems to not take pretty much any responsibility for anything he's done."

"He doesn't want to be known as a Mad Cow anymore," Pats told provincial court Judge Janice leMaistre.

"We have a young man who's very, very intelligent, but just needs real direction," Mugerwa said. "He realizes he has to step up to the plate. Hopefully everything goes as planned."

It had better, said leMaistre.

"You have to get through," she said. "You have no choice."

She sentenced John to two years of supervised probation.

By the time Steve Cotter got to his sentencing hearing, the Crown had dropped the dangerous driving charge — he'd been at the wheel of the Silverado — and Steve had pleaded guilty to possession of goods obtained by crime.

Pats, the prosecutor, put in a good word for him. She said Steve co-operated fully with police to the point that he "was essential" in helping them determine the identities of some of the other people involved, including Elijah Zikhali, the other driver.

But she also called for a stiff sentence inside the context of the "larger picture" of youth auto theft in Winnipeg.

"Our position is that all 14 kids, if they hadn't been driving around that night in these two vehicles, this wouldn't have happened in the first place... I think there is a tie between these two vehicles, absolutely," said Pats. "One car went straight, the other car turned. He was in the vehicle that turned. He can't be blamed for what happened with the accident, but I think that when you look at the entire scenario of what happened that night, he certainly had a part to play."

Judge Ken Champagne wasn't buying.

"Are you not asking me to impose a sentence to specifically deter this young man and to send a message to other young offenders involved in these types of cases to denounce their conduct?" Champagne asked.

"That's the flavour and the underpinnings of your delivery here today, simply going through those facts, is that fair to this accused who's pled guilty to being a passenger in a (stolen) truck?" he demanded.

Defence lawyer Michelle Bright indicated it was unfair for the Crown to play up the circumstances of one incident and apply them to another in which the teen had no direct involvement.

Champagne indicated that while he had considered sending a message to the teen and other youths involved in auto thefts, but the YCJA — and its emphasis on the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders — barred him from doing it.

"I can't help but be tempted to impose a sentence that would address the principles of deterrence and denunciation, but I know I can't do that... I completely understand the Crown's frustration," he said.

Steve was sentenced to the 72 days he'd already served in the youth centre, and to two years of supervised probation.

Dawn Sinclair's sentencing hearing was perhaps the most pathetic. She'd pleaded guilty to the standard possession charge and to breaches of probation orders. It wasn't her first appearance — she'd drawn 15 months probation the year before, for joyriding and robbery.

Her mother and father are both addicted to crack cocaine and 16-year-old Dawn is an alcoholic.

"She feels her parents no longer care about her because they don't set boundaries for her," Crown attorney Mick Makar told court.

"For a person her age, it shows a tremendous amount of insight."

Dawn was now going to go live with her grandmother, who sets rules she intends to follow, court was told.

"If this (fatal crash) changes her life, perhaps something small can come out of the loss of someone's life," said Makar.

Nearly 30 minutes into the sentencing hearing, Dawn's mother walked in. She appeared nervous and fidgety and had to be warned to remove her hat.

"She needs to stop hanging around with the wrong crowd," mom offered up to the court. "Then she won't be in these situations."

Dawn then stood up to speak.

"I'm really sorry for what happened. I want a second chance. I know I could say 'No." I made the wrong choice. I should have just stayed home."

She was sentenced to the 58 days she'd spent in custody, and to 18 months of supervised probation.

Dawn's friend Chantal Robideaux also pleaded guilty to the joyriding charge and to breaches of probation.

Mick Makar, the Crown, was much less hopeful or sympathetic. The next time she gets in trouble — and Makar didn't seem to have many doubts there would be a next time, and soon — she'll go to the Portage Correctional Institute for Women. That's because she turned 18 about three months after Lanzellotti was killed.

Makar told court in the brief sentencing hearing that the girl did not fully appreciate the seriousness of the matter when she hopped into the Silverado.

"But for the grace of God she got in the other vehicle," Makar said. She could as easily have been in the Avalanche that plowed into Lanzellotti's cab.

She got the two months she'd spent in custody, and two years of supervised probation.

The YCJA is predicated on the ideal that no youth is hopeless. The framers of the law have never met 16-year-old Dylan Parker. With the symptoms — though not the diagnosis — of FASD, he's a ward of Child and Family Services.

A CFS representative told Dylan's sentencing hearing the agency has run out of options and will likely just keep warehousing him in a hotel without adequate treatment or service.

Provincial court Judge Kelly Moar expressed concern, noting it's a likely recipe for failure and flies in the face of a provincial government promise to stop the much-criticized practice of housing kids in hotels.

But the social worker said CFS was still using them as an emergency outlet in "special" cases where other alternatives aren't available or appropriate.

Dylan a lengthy prior history of similar car-theft offences and was supposed to be living in a CFS group home at the time of the crash. He fled the placement on March 16, was arrested March 26, released on bail and returned to the home on March 27, then vanished hours later.

He wouldn't be caught again by police until after the March 29 tragedy.

A court-ordered pre-sentence report painted a depressing picture of the youth, his background and his prospects for rehabilitation.

"The writers say they are at a loss as to how to further advocate for (the teen)," said Pats. The boy has also stated he will "run away" once released from custody.

The CFS worker told court Dylan Parker's case was a special challenge to her office. He had previously been accused of "inappropriate sexual contact" both within his home and group placements. "He can't be placed with other children now," she said.

His mother, an alcoholic, has been unwilling to work with child-welfare officials or even discuss her own history so that a proper assessment of potential fetal alcohol spectrum disorder could be made, court was told.

There is no father in the picture and no other relatives apparently willing to take him in.

"The only option we have is to place him in an emergency shelter or a hotel," the social worker said.

Dylan spoke up in court and said he wants to find "independent living" for himself. He also vowed to make positive changes in his life.

"I have the strength to stay out of trouble," he said.

Moar sentenced him to 45 days already served and 18 months of supervised probation.

Bill Robinson was another challenge. He, too, pleaded guilty to the joyriding charge and breaches of probation.

When his sentencing hearing came up, he'd already spent 111 days in the Manitoba Youth Centre. Apparently, he didn't care.

So said a forensic report, examining why he behaved the way he did.

"(He's) somewhat oblivious to the impact of his offending," the report stated. "His days in custody do not appear to be particularly worthy."

"Custody is not going to change his behaviour," said Judge Rocky Pollack.

"I've tried very hard to be optimistic about you," he told the teen.

"He's a lazy young man from a good family who had supportive parents," prosecutor Liz Pats said. "He just basically willy-nilly was going where he wanted and did whatever he wanted. School was farthest thing away from his mind."

Pats said his one saving grace was that he wasn't a hardcore gang member, that he only had a loose connection to the Native Syndicate and only knew one of the 13 other kids involved that night, Marilyn Collins.

"I don't ever want to be involved in something like this because someone died," Bill told his probation officer. "A person died. I mean it this time."

His lawyer Dan Manning said the boy was intelligent enough, but didn't get the supervision he needed to stay in school and out of trouble. There were also language issues in which the kid found it difficult to understand teachers.

"Family is important to him," Manning said, arguing for his release to go home to live with his mom and siblings.

In addition to the 111 days already served, Pollack released Bill on a five-month sentence to be served in the community followed by two years of probation. For the five-month sentence period he was also ordered to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. His release would be structured, working with a graffiti-removal company and going to Children of the Earth School. He was also ordered to get counselling to deal with his drug and alcohol use.

Terry, the younger of the two Chartrand brothers, also pleaded guilty to the joyriding charge.

He'd been in a street gang since the age of 11, Liz Pats told the sentencing hearing. The gang creed, the drugs and the alcohol that come with it were the central focus of his life. Diagnosed with FASD, he was first arrested when he was 14.

So it was no real surprise to learn the youth had "graduated" to more serious crimes.

"He's just blasted onto the scene," Pats said. "It's unbelievable."

Both Crown and defence agreed the boy was a candidate for electronic monitoring. Once released he was to go with live with his mother and wear an ankle bracelet so authorities could keep tabs on him. The plan also called for mother and son to move out of the city's West End.

"He really is in the teapot when it comes to being surrounded by all of whatever you want to call them... his homies," Pats told court. "They're all right there."

His sentence was the 119 days he'd spent awaiting his hearing, plus two years of supervised probation.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

A year has passed since the fatal crash.

The families of Lanzellotti and his passenger have chosen to remain silent.

"I took great pains in writing out Tony's obituary which outlines his life," Lanzellotti's widow Donna said in an email. "I do not care to elaborate further. This is still very painful and difficult for the family."

"This is going on long enough," added Lanzellotti's uncle Rocco Rasati. "Let him rest in peace."

Heller also declined to comment about what happened and on the lengthy court process that's followed. "He finds the attention quite stressful and would like to preserve his privacy," an acquaintance said.

In the weeks after Lanzellotti's death a fund was set up in his memory at Urban Potential, a faith-based agency that helps inner city kids go to summer camp.

Greg Glatz, the pastor at Central Baptist Church at 1061 Ellice Ave., is in charge. You can reach him by phone at 775-6789 or by email at info@coolbaptist.com

Al Lanzellotti said his brother often tried to help kids in need when he worked at the pool hall.

"A lot of them were gang members in the '90s," he said in an interview. "And he tried to steer them down the right path."

It was Tony Lanzellotti's fate that the kind of youths he'd tried to help were the kind that, in a mindless pursuit of thrills that night a year ago, took his life.

Al Lanzellotti noted the irony.

"We're looking at those kids as troubled," he said. "There but for the grace of God go a lot of us."

Two Routes to a Tragedy

 

484 McPHILLIPS ST. — McPhillips Street Station,

 

Where cabbie Tony Lanzellotti (below)picked up casino worker David Heller in the early morning hours of Saturday March 29.

 

INTERSECTION OF PORTAGE AVENUE & EDMONTON STREET

 

Approximate area where police tried to pull over speeding vehicles, only to have them dash off. No chase was initiated.

 

61 EDMONTON ST.

 

Apartment block where the 14 young people gathered with stolen vehicles in the early morning hours of Saturday March 29, and where neighbour across the street called police to report them playing "bumper cars."

 

INTERSECTION OF PORTAGE AVENUE & MARYLAND STREET

 

Where the deadly crash between Avalanche and cab occurred.

 

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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