Thursday, February 26, 2009

Teens get probation for failing to pay taxi fare

From the Whig-Standard Website

Cab driver's collaring of suspects ignites argument


Two teenage girls who tried to rip off a taxi driver for a $13 fare, then fought with him and got snarly with police after the cabby chased them down and caught them, finally had their day in court.

The teens, now 18 and 17 1 /2 years old, have both been placed on probation, the older one for nine months and the younger one - who was charged in addition to violating probation - for 12 months. Each of them has also been ordered to perform 30 hours of community service and to pay $6.50 apiece in restitution to the court for the taxi fare they tried to avoid paying.

The teens were set to go to trial this week but pleaded guilty just before noon on the day of their trial to committing transportation fraud. Their pleas were made after a deal was struck between assistant Crown attorney Janet O'Brien and the father-and-son defence team of John and Chris Ecclestone.

O'Brien noted that she was agreeing to the deal partly because the case had already been set for trial on three previous occasions and Each time the victim had taken time off work to attend court.

Still, O'Brien said she wanted other young people to get the message that they can't assault someone who's making a citizen's arrest in defence of their rights.

Her comment struck a nerve with Chris Ecclestone, who represented the younger of the two girls.

He reacted as though his client was the victim.

"I would have serious concerns about taxi drivers getting the message that they can't chase people into houses and drag them out," he told the judge.

John Ecclestone went even further, suggesting that the cab driver's apprehension of the pair "had all the earmarks of a kidnapping." He also argued that the man needed a warrant before he followed his fleeing passengers into the apartment building and then held them for police.

O'Brien had told Justice Judith Beaman that the crime was committed after the cab driver was dispatched to pick up a call in the Cherry and Pine streets area.

It was 12:30 in the afternoon on June 27, 2007, and the girls at first told the driver to take them to Food Basics on Barrack Street. Then they said they wanted to go to the liquor store across the street.

When they reached their destination, however, the person they were expecting to meet wasn't there and the girls belatedly disclosed that they had no money to pay for their ride.

O'Brien said they convinced the cab driver to return them to an apartment building on Cherry Street, where he was promised they would get him his cash.

Beaman was told the cab driver insisted that one of the girls remain with the cab while the other went inside for the money. The older of the two stayed behind.

After only a few minutes, O'Brien said, the older girl suddenly bolted from the cab and ran into the building, the cab driver in pursuit.

She told the judge that he caught up with the pair at the end of a hallway, heading for an exit, and grabbed them to return them to his cab while he called police.

Beaman was told that the girls didn't go quietly, however. They kicked and screamed, scratched the taxi driver and one of them tried to bite him.

They were later described by police as abusive and unco-operative with the officers who arrested them as well.

The Ecclestones both maintained that their clients hadn't initially set out to shortchange the cab driver, even though they didn't have any money to pay for a cab when they first called Modern Taxi.

John Ecclestone said his client went to the LCBO that day expecting to be met by a woman she referred to as her "street mother." The lawyer told Beaman she thought she had an arrangement with the woman to meet at that spot and expected to be given some cash.

The problem arose, he said, when her "street mother" was "a complete no-show."

He also observed that the assault charges originally laid against his client and her friend had not gone ahead, causing him to bristle at the suggestion that any delay in bringing the case to trial was attributable to the defence.

In fact, he said, had there been no resolution and the case hadn't gone ahead this time, he would have brought a motion to have the charges shelved because of unreasonable delay in its prosecution.

Beaman finally stepped in to referee, telling the lawyers "we double-book all the time." She suggested the delay that caused wasn't anyone's fault.

She appeared to agree with the younger Ecclestone that the cab driver should not have chased the girls into the apartment building, but she told the girls,"you should not have got into the cab without the money to pay for it."

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