Rob Ramage bought six-pack before fatal crash
NEWMARKET, Ont. - Former NHL player Rob Ramage bought a six-pack of beer just hours before a fatal crash and gave off a "strong smell of alcohol'' after the accident, a jury heard Wednesday at his criminal trial.
"I could smell booze on his breath,'' Det. Kory Keeping, who was then a constable assigned to Ramage's bedside in the emergency room, testified Wednesday. "It was just emanating from him.''
However, Keeping conceded under cross-examination that he never made note of his observations at the time.
When pressed by defence lawyer Brian Greenspan, the officer admitted his notes made no mention of alcohol on Ramage's breath. Although Keeping also testified Ramage had bloodshot eyes following the crash, he conceded that observation also was not in his notebook.
Ramage, a defenceman who played 15 seasons in the NHL, has pleaded not guilty to five charges, including impaired and dangerous driving causing the death of his passenger, former NHL player Keith Magnuson, on Dec. 15, 2003.
Ramage, 48, and Magnuson, 56, a defenceman who played his entire 11-season NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks, including a few seasons as team captain, were travelling in a rented Chrysler Intrepid after attending a funeral when the car crossed into incoming traffic and crashed head-on into a Nissan Pathfinder.
Ramage, who now lives in St. Louis, where he played six NHL seasons with the Blues, is also charged with impaired and dangerous driving causing bodily harm to Michelle Pacheco, the driver of the Pathfinder, and with having a blood alcohol level over the legal limit.
A Beer Store video surveillance tape played in court Wednesday showed Ramage and Magnuson making a purchase around 11:30 a.m. on the day of the accident. Beer Store employee Robert Pitoscia testified both men appeared sober at the time, and that he sold Ramage six cans of beer.
"It was Labatt 50,'' Pitoscia told the court. "Six cans ... a six-pack.''
Greenspan told the court he took no issue with the video evidence, conceding it clearly shows Ramage and Magnuson in the store that day.
Peter Fairfull, a paramedic who tended to Ramage during the ambulance journey to the hospital, also testified he noticed the smell of alcohol.
"There was an odour in the ambulance of alcohol, what I perceived to be alcohol,'' Fairfull told court.
Although jurors haven't been told Ramage's blood alcohol level at the time of the accident, Crown prosecutor Paul Tait said during his opening address that a toxicologist will testify that it "substantially exceeded'' the legal limit.
Court has heard there was initially some confusion about who was killed when Ramage's car crossed the centre line and slammed head-on into Pacheco's westbound vehicle in Woodbridge, Ont.
Several witnesses have testified that Ramage repeatedly asked about Gary Leeman, who was his teammate when both played with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"He asked me how Gary was and said that he wanted us to help Gary,'' Fairfull told court.
"I assumed (the fatally injured man) was Mr. Leeman, because that's what Mr. Ramage said.''
Court heard Ramage didn't learn until later that night that Magnuson had been killed, to which he replied: "Not Maggy.''
Another police officer who rode with Ramage to the hospital asked if he had been drinking, Fairfull testified.
"I remember Mr. Ramage saying he preferred to talk to his lawyer,'' Fairfull said when asked how Ramage answered, eliciting a visible reaction from several jurors.
During cross-examination, Greenspan asked Fairfull if he recalled the officer cautioning Ramage after charging him -- the Canadian equivalent of reading someone their rights.
"I don't recall that,'' Fairfull said.
But Greenspan pointed out that if the officer had done so, then Ramage's comments about a lawyer weren't from "out of the blue,'' but rather came after the officer advised him he was entitled to legal representation.
Fairfull also conceded during cross-examination that Ramage's repeated questioning about Leeman was a possible sign he suffered a concussion.
Ramage played for eight NHL teams, earning Stanley Cups rings with the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens, and captaining the Blues and Maple Leafs.