POLITICS

Cabbie pleads not guilty to running down man in altercation caught on video

01/27/2015 11:14 EST | Updated 03/29/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Was a Montreal cab driver deliberately trying to run down a belligerent customer or just acting in self-defence and attempting to flee when he ran him over with his car?

Those competing versions clashed in a Montreal courtroom on Tuesday as a trial began for Guercy Edmond on four charges: hit and run, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and dangerous driving.

The incident on April 29, 2012, gained widespread coverage as videos of the after-hours melee were widely shared on YouTube and other social media.

The man injured in the hit and run, a French national named Benoit Kapelli, took the stand as the first prosecution witness Tuesday.

Armed with a fuzzy memory he chalked up to shock, Kapelli said he was acting in self-defence and fearful of being attacked after an argument ensued over a disputed fare and a taxi meter that hadn't been reset.

It then degenerated into a physical altercation between Edmond and Kapelli after the latter demanded to be let out of the cab and called the cabbie a thief.

Videos later captured Edmond's vehicle being surrounded by a swarm of people, including Kapelli.

The car was kicked and struck as Edmond, 50, drove erratically around an intersection in the city's trendy Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood.

One man even jumped atop the vehicle and stomped on it just before Kapelli was run down.

Prosecutor Josiane Laplante said Kapelli ended up with a perforated bladder, broken ribs and a large cut on his chin.

Under cross-examination, Kapelli denied striking Edmond inside the cab and also said he did not make racially charged remarks widely reported at the time of the alleged crime.

Defence lawyer Yves Vaillancourt suggested video taken of the late-night affair painted a different picture: one of an angry Kapelli striking and kicking the taxi cab over and over and repeatedly darting in front of it.

Kapelli called Edmond a thief, said he was fearful the cabbie was armed and testified he was trying to run him down.

Before hearing testimony, Quebec court Judge Genevieve Graton viewed a store security tape and bystander video that captured the events.

In one taken at street level, Kapelli is seen kicking the car one last time as he appears to lose his balance and gets caught under its wheels.

Laplante says the evidence will show the cab driver's actions were deliberate, but Vaillancourt said he will argue it was self-defence and that Edmond was trying to get to police the report the altercation.

He said his client was afraid and didn't see the victim as he drove away from the mob.

"As soon as Mr. Edmond crossed paths with a police officer, he told them people were after him," Vaillancourt said. "Even when he was there with police officers (at the scene), they were still attacking the car."

Vaillancourt reminded the judge that despite others swarming and striking Edmond's car, his client is the only one who has been charged.

The trial is expected to last through Friday.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected version; a previous story had the wrong name for the defence lawyer