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Toronto ‘gas and dash’ suspect wanted for second-degree murder: police

Max Edwin Tutiven

Handout/Toronto Police Services

A 39-year-old Toronto man being hunted in connection with a fatal "gas and dash" encounter at a midtown gas station on the weekend is "very well known" to authorities, a police source said Monday, with a long string of convictions encompassing theft, assault and multiple driving offences.

Police announced Monday afternoon that he is now wanted on the charge of second degree murder in the death of gas station attendant Jayesh Prajapati, 44.

Separately, three arrest warrants have also been issued for Max Edwin Tutiven  in connection with three gas-bar thefts - two in Toronto and one in Montreal.

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Toronto police have issued a Canada-wide warrant for him and he may be in the Montreal area, homicide Detective Kate Beveridge told reporters.

Police said in a news release that a post-mortem examination determined the cause of death of Mr. Prajapati as multiple blunt force trauma injuries.

Mr. Tutiven, 39, was also named as a suspect in a peeping-tom investigation near the University of Toronto six years ago.

An arrest warrant for him was issued in August, 2006, in connection with a series of incidents in which a prowler was detected spying on women in their homes near the University of Toronto in 53 Division.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Tutiven's criminal history reflects any convictions stemming from that episode.

Mr. Prajapati, a  Shell Canada employee, died Saturday night after a customer filled his SUV with $112.85 of fuel and then fled without paying.

The 44-year-old kiosk attendant, a married father, was killed as he struggled to prevent a thief from leaving by clinging to the vehicle as it sped away.

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A witness told television reporters the slain employee was "hanging on for dear life" to the 2000-2003 silver or beige Isuzu Rodeo.

On Monday night, more than 100 people gathered near the midtown Shell station for a sombre vigil to remember Mr. Prajapati.

Mourners placed flowers on the grass and held white candles as they recited prayers together and chatted about a man they said had a quick smile and always remembered his customers.

Sadia Nazar said Mr. Prajapati trained her when she started working at the gas station. "I really liked working with him," she said. "He was really, really honest [and] hard working."

Copies of a printed photo, handed out to people at the vigil, show the gas station attendant with his wife and son standing in front of a Christmas tree. Mr. Prajapati gazes directly at the camera, a slight smile on his lips.

Several people who knew Mr. Prajapati said they found it difficult to believe he would run after a car, since he was often forgiving when someone was a few cents short on a purchase or started to drive away before remembering to pay for their gas.

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Aaron King said the attendant didn't balk when he forgot his credit card and had to come back to pay for his gas later. "He was always trying to help people out," he said.

Pietro Cugliari, who lives near the gas station, said he's furious at the driver who struck Mr. Prajapati. "I wish I could see his face to say, 'Look what you did.' To kill a father, a husband, for nothing," he said.

The incident has renewed calls for better employee-safety laws in Ontario and across Canada.

Premier Dalton McGuinty vowed that his government will look at how to make workplaces safer, particularly for gas-station attendants.

"This gentleman lost his life in such a tragic and unfortunate way," Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Monday. "I think one of the things we owe that family, and that gentleman in particular, is to take a long, hard look at what lessons we might draw from it."

As managers of the Shell station met the man's relatives Sunday night, Shell Canada issued a statement reminding its employees that "under no circumstance" are they to put themselves in harm's way.

With gas prices rising, some critics are concerned more deaths will follow. Yet they say politicians and retailers are stubbornly reluctant to consider some tried-and-true safety measures.

"That young man, like Grant, was slaughtered on the altar of convenience," Doug De Patie, a B.C. plumber, said in an interview from Salmon Arm, B.C.

Seven years ago Mr. De Patie's son, 25-year-old gas-station attendant Grant De Patie, was killed in similar circumstances to the incident this weekend. The outcry over that tragedy – which involved a teenaged driver who refused to pay $12 for gas – led British Columbia to implement "Grant's Law," legislation that ushered in a series of protective measures for retail employees who work alone at night.

"Every B.C. gas station is pay before you pump," said Mr. De Patie, adding that Grant's Law led to that policy, and also prompted retailers to step up employee training and to install better physical protections.

Mr. De Patie continues to try to persuade other provinces to follow B.C.'s lead, but so far his lobbying efforts have fallen flat.

"It takes a death," Mr. De Patie said. "It's just like trying to get a light at an intersection. Until a bunch of people get killed they don't put in a light."

There have been other tragedies. In Saskatoon last year, 50-year-old Shell employee Jimmy Wiebe was shot while working alone during a nighttime robbery, and the province is now considering a package of proposals known as "Jimmy's Law."

Nor is this the first gas-and-dash that has resulted in death in Ontario.

In Mississauga last year, 62-year-old Petro-Canada attendant Hashem Atifeh Rad was killed as he tried to stop a driver from leaving the pumps without paying.

And as recently as last week, CBC broadcast a news item airing complaints from gas retailers who said that surging prices have led to a spike in such thefts.

In the latest incident, which took place Saturday at 9 p.m., the vehicle allegedly belonging to Mr. Tutiven vanished after pulling into a gas station at Marlee and Roselawn avenues near Eglinton Avenue and the Allen Expressway.

Police urged him to speak to a lawyer and turn himself in. He is believed to have no fixed address.

Mr. Tutiven's record stretches back more than 18 years and includes at least one other instance of  stealing fuel from a service station.

The peeping-tom investigation in 2006 involved at least 13  complaints from women who told of a  prowler in the downtown area of  Bloor Street, Madison Avenue and Spadina Road.

The man would disable exterior lighting facilities, then climb fire escapes, stand on the ledge of his car window,  or by other means peer into windows.

Some of the women whose privacy was violated subsequently  installed bars over their windows.

With a file from Karen Howlett

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