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Ralph Bissonnette taken from Google+
Ralph Bissonnette taken from Google+

Taxi driver charged with murder after skateboarder killed Add to ...

They both came from elsewhere and settled in Toronto, looking for better opportunities as they worked tough, pressure-cooker jobs.

Just after rush hour on Monday, their paths intersected on a downtown street, in a confrontation between a skateboarder and a taxi driver.

The skateboarder died. The driver has now been charged with second-degree murder.

Ethiopian-born Adib Ibrahim, 43, was at the wheel of his taxi, and Quebec-born cook Ralph Bissonnette, 28, rode his longboard, when they found themselves near the corner of King and Jarvis streets.

According to their friends, neither was the least hot-headed. But a clash did happen Monday.

A witness, Ben Drory, said he was standing at a streetcar stop around 6 p.m. when he saw a silver-coloured taxi and a skateboarder come up along the left lane.

“The cabbie was driving along and the skateboarder came along and he started rapping on the window, like two or three times really aggressively,” Mr. Drory said. “I thought that looked really dangerous.”

The Ambassador cab then veered into the curb side lane, hitting the longboarder who went under the back wheels, Mr. Drory said. He and other witnesses rushed to help the victim, who was bleeding in the head. The driver of the cab, who remained at the scene, looked “shocked,” Mr. Drory said.

Mr. Bissonnette was pronounced dead after being taken to St. Michael’s Hospital. Remains of his longboard, which had snapped in two, and a backpack were still on the curb.

Homicide detectives took over after “it became pretty apparent that there was potential intention to the collision,” said a police spokeswoman, Constable Wendy Drummond.

Toronto skateboarders are planning a candlelight vigil Wednesday at 6 p.m., at the scene of Mr. Bissonnette’s death.

Under the Highway Traffic Act, skateboarders are classified as pedestrians. Under municipal bylaw, in Toronto, they must be on the sidewalk if there is one.

Suzanne Nuttall, who organized the vigil, said in an e-mail that longboarders and skateboarders have too many close calls with aggressive taxi drivers. “There has to be more respect. We need to share the road. Longboarders pay taxes, too,” she said.

Pat Allard, who works at Hogtown Extreme Sports, said longboarding is becoming increasingly popular. He says longboarders are as safe as cyclists when sharing the roads with cars. “It’s no more dangerous or safe. You just have to be as courteous as you can when sharing the road.”

Mr. Bissonnette grew up in Coaticook, a small town east of Montreal. However, for the last decade, he had worked professional kitchens in Quebec City, Florida and San Diego before he came to Toronto, as a chef de partie at the Rosewater Supper Club, then working the grill at Aria Ristorante.

“It’s a big city but he was adapting well,” his mother, Louise, said by telephone from Coaticook.

Mr. Bissonnette entertained dreams of opening his own restaurant, said one friend, Pierre Heurich.

Another friend and co-worker at Aria, Johnny Parades, said Mr. Bissonnette considered moving to Vancouver at the end of August to start a new life with his girlfriend.

Both said their late friend, who used his longboard to get around the city, was a sociable, friendly man.

Similarly, Mr. Ibrahim, a married father of three, was described by a fellow cabbie as someone who never had a violent incident on the road.

Mr. Ibrahim, a balding and heavyset man in casual clothing, barely spoke during a brief court appearance. The judge, who granted a publication ban, postponed the matter until next Tuesday, when Mr. Ibrahim’s counsel, Barry Fox, will apply for bail.

A second-degree murder charge means that the person is alleged to have had a specific intent to kill or done something recklessly knowing death could result.

“I know him personally,” said Elias Abrahim, a fellow Ethiopian cabbie said during a court recess. “He’s not a person who tried to harm anybody. He’s very hard-working, [a]decent man.”

Mr. Abrahim and the accused had driven taxis for 15 years and “almost every week something happens but we swallow it because this [is]our livelihood. This is not just driving for fun.”

He said the two sometimes talked about congestion, cyclists and skateboarders. “It’s the summer, right? We see them in the morning like, they take the whole lane, and driving you know, you have to really be careful. Believe me, if we are not that careful we could have [lost]this job long, long time ago.”

Louis Seta, a cab driver who has known Mr. Ibrahim for at least five years, described him as a hard-working family man who was also religious and regularly went to the mosque.

Back downtown, at Aria, owner Elena Morelli closed the restaurant Tuesday to allow her staff to grieve the young man who was being groomed to be a sous chef.

“We are all really upset,” Ms. Morelli said. “He was such a nice, polite man, and always in good humour.”

 

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