Ramage awaits his fate

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

The white cardboard evidence boxes are piled up on the floor in Court Room 105 with two printed words standing out amongst the numbers: Ramage and Fatal.

Rob Ramage stands silently and expressionless in this tiny court in the early morning in Newmarket while around him lawyers banter and laugh and entertain. That is their job. This is Ramage's life, his future now on the line; three people -- including the driver of another vehicle -- and three families severely impacted by a tragic car accident on Rutherford Rd. in December 2003.

Ramage, a longtime NHL player, and Keith Magnuson, a Chicago Blackhawks defenceman and coach, went to a funeral together -- the funeral of former hockey player Keith McCreary -- but only one them ever went home.

Magnuson was buried a few days later himself. And yesterday, some 16 months after the horror, the case against Ramage, which include dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving causing death and unlawfully operating a vehicle dangerous to the public, began the preliminary hearing phase. Details, at this time, cannot appear because of a publication ban.

Details that Ramage listened to that have probably haunted his life since that fateful December afternoon that turned a former hockey player and current investment adviser into just another name in another crummy courtroom.

In this, the season in which the NHL doesn't play, the hockey players -- past and present -- can't seem to escape the docket. Mike Danton was sentenced in St. Louis. Todd Bertuzzi plea bargained in Vancouver. Dany Heatley drove a man to his death and was sentenced to making speeches in Georgia. Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow murdered only the game but didn't have to go to court to defend themselves.

And on a matter of grave seriousness, Ramage is on trial: The one-time Maple Leafs captain and once the first pick in the greatest of all drafts, in a court which is just a parking lot away from where his Leafs used to hold training camp.

The preliminary hearing is the lawyers' dance before any trial really hits its mark. It's about establishing the case the Crown hopes to make. It's about introducing evidence. In this case, you get the impression also, it's all that will occur before some kind of plea bargain is arrived upon.

Representing Ramage is the heralded Brian Greenspan, he of the Alan Eagleson defence, who is part-lawyer, part-thespian, and like all great actors you need to listen to every word and admire every gesture: He doesn't act for his clients, he performs. Opposing him is Crown Attorney Paul Tait, who is thorough, if not droning, but not nearly as compelling.

HARD TO WATCH

In the midst of all this sits Ramage, who police allege was the driver of a rented Chrysler Intrepid, with Magnuson in the passenger's seat, and two other vehicles involved. He survived. Magnuson didn't. His time in court may represent an end for him or a beginning: It's hard to know.

It's hard to watch.

Nobody wins no matter what happens here, no matter what the end result may be. Cindy Magnuson lost her husband and Kevin and Molly lost their dad. Now another dad waits and listens to hear of his fate.

There's no justice for the living, and none for the survivors. Just another well known name hoping to prove his innocence after an accident took away the innocence from all of them.


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