TORONTO – A four-year sentence for former NHLer Rob Ramage is concerning given his “remarkable” character despite being convicted of impaired driving causing death, a panel of judges on Ontario’s top court said Monday.
Ramage was found guilty in 2007 on several charges in a crash that killed his friend, fellow former NHL player Keith Magnuson.
Ramage appealed both his conviction and sentence, which his lawyer said was “harsh and grossly disproportionate,” in a hearing at the Appeal Court on Monday.
While the judges reserved their decision, they made several comments questioning why the judge at Ramage’s trial decided to impose a sentence at the high end of the normal range.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re all concerned” about the sentence, said Justice David Doherty.
“He has been a remarkable citizen… Why doesn’t that drive it to the low end?”
Ramage’s lawyer Brian Greenspan argued the sentence should be reduced because it disproportionate for an upstanding citizen who had given much back to the community and had no criminal record. In addition, the sentence went against the wishes of Magnuson’s family, who asked the judge to show leniency, Greenspan said.
Magnuson, 56, was killed when a rental car driven by Ramage slammed head-on into another vehicle just north of Toronto in December 2003. Ramage and Magnuson had just left a funeral reception for another former NHL player, Keith McCreary.
Ramage was convicted in 2007 of impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
He was sentenced to four years imprisonment and was banned from driving for five years. Ramage has been out on bail since then, living in St. Louis.
He surrendered into custody Sunday night in Toronto and was to be released pending the Appeal Court judge’s decision. Any sentence of more than one year, even if it is served through community service, would mean Ramage must serve it in Canada.
Greenspan also argued Ramage should get a new trial because a police officer wilfully and deliberately violated his constitutional rights.
After the accident Ramage was groggy, gradually regaining consciousness, and had been given morphine for the pain, and as such was in no state to give informed consent when the officer asked him for a urine sample, Greenspan said.
Not only that, but it is “painfully clear” the officer intentionally held back on letting Ramage call a lawyer until he obtained that urine sample, Greenspan said.
“He could have done it the right way,” Greenspan told the panel of three judges. “He chose to do it the wrong way.”
Urine samples and a blood test showed Ramage had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system, the Crown said, though Greenspan has raised the possibility the results were unintentionally contaminated.
The Crown conceded the Charter violation, but said the trial judge rightly allowed the urine evidence because the officer’s conduct fell short of “flagrant or egregious.”
Ramage won Stanley Cup rings with the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens. He also played for the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota North Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers. Ramage retired after the 1993-94 season.
Magnuson was a rugged defenceman who played his entire 11-season NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks, retiring after the 1979-80 campaign. He also coached the team for a season and a half.