Driving assessment

MANDEL: Cabbie blames ‘automatism’ for seizure in 2018 fatal crash

Cancer patient Ines Puleio, 56, was in the backseat of the taxi heading to Sunnybrook Hospital for her first radiotherapy when she was killed in the crash.

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The fault of automation.

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On a rainy afternoon in November 2018, Ines Puleio was in a City Taxi on Avenue Rd. on her way to Sunnybrook for her first radiation therapy appointment. Diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year, her family believed she bravely had the battle in hand.

But the 56-year-old’s chance to live was robbed when Toronto police said her speeding taxi ran up the sidewalk, nearly hitting a crowded bus shelter, backing into heavy traffic and slamming into a Ford Explorer stopped at a red light.

Out of control, the taxi then raced up the sidewalk, hitting a fire hydrant and a large pole before backing into the lane and hitting a TTC bus before finally coming to a stop.

When driver Gurcharan Singh got out of his taxi, witnesses said he looked dazed and told them there was no one else in the car. In fact, Puleio was in the back seat, mortally wounded.

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“Such a beautiful and strong woman who loved with all of her being fought a good fight to have her life sadly end this way,” her son reportedly posted after the tragedy.

Singh, 48, pleaded not guilty to dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death. During his trial before judge alone on Wednesday, his defense offered a new reason for the fatal accident – a seizure disorder from a stroke had made him a robot or automaton.

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Singh said he passed out and couldn’t remember what happened. It was as if he was “sleepwalking” without control of his actions, testified forensic psychiatrist Julian Gojer.

“It was more likely than not that Mr. Singh’s actions at the time of the alleged offense on November 1, 2018 were related to a seizure and not under his willful control. Such involuntary acts without conscious control were understood by the courts as automatisms”, concludes the defense expert in his report.

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“It is likely that Mr. Singh was in a state of automatism at the time of his car accident on November 1, 2018.”

The defense of automatism has been talked about a lot lately, albeit in a different context. Amid public outcry, the Supreme Court ruled last week that the law barring the defense of extreme intoxication to automatism was unconstitutional.

Here, Gojer blames an undiagnosed seizure disorder. He partly based his assessment on Singh’s wife reporting two episodes in 2017 when her husband seemed “out of control” for a few minutes as well as the fact that he was in two car accidents on the same day. His family doctor informed the Registrar of Motor Vehicles of Singh’s “recent daytime seizures” in December 2017 and referred him to a neurologist.

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The specialist concluded the scans showed no seizure disorder, the court heard, but Singh reported a “complete seizure” 13 months after the accident and was prescribed anti-epileptic drugs.

“If hindsight was 20/20, Mr. Singh shouldn’t have been driving in the fall of 2018,” Gojer said.

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He speculated that Singh was developing the disorder and suffering a brief “absence” or “complex partial seizure” at the time of the fatal collision.

“There is no other reasonable explanation as to why Mr. Singh drove the way he did,” he said.

The prosecution suggested another possible explanation: that it was simply a reckless and dangerous driver who drove too fast and lost control of the car.

“I wouldn’t disagree with you that it’s a possibility,” agreed Gojer.

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According to data retrieved from the car, Singh was traveling at 78 km/h in the 50 km/h zone but his speed increased to 85 km/h two seconds before the accident and the car then accelerated to 94 km/h. at the time of the accident. impact.

Crown attorney Matt Bloch asked Gojer about evidence of Singh weaving from the curb lane to the outside lane and then back again before the crash, as well as on the sidewalk to overtake vehicles and evade a bus shelter with apparent dexterity. He also replayed the video from inside the taxi where Singh appears attentive and shows no signs of unconsciousness or seizures.

“People can also break the law and drive badly for reasons other than foreclosures,” Gojer conceded.

The trial continues.

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