Imprisoned former Toronto Maple Leaf captain Rob Ramage (inset) has been paroled to a halfway house in London, Ontario, after 10 months behind bars and despite insisting he does not remember getting drunk the day he killed his close friend. “We feel that the risk is manageable on this type of release,” parole board member Bruce Malcolm said, after a three-hour hearing that I attended May 5 at Frontenac Institution.
(READ the written record of the decision, including information not disclosed during the hearing, in this additional post.)
Ramage, a steady defenceman who played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League, including two in Toronto, was sentenced to four years in prison after he was convicted of impaired driving causing death in a crash in Woodbridge in 2003. Retired NHL star Keith Magnuson, who was a passenger in Ramage’s car, died and a woman in another vehicle was seriously hurt. Ramage began serving his sentence in July last year (after he lost an appeal).
Ramage’s wife Dawn and daughter Jaclyn embraced him and began to cry after the hearing. Ramage’s brother John also attended the hearing.
“The board does have some concerns with respect to understanding your use of alcohol, both historical and during the timeframe of this tragedy,” Malcolm said, ordering Ramage not to drink alcohol. He’s also forbidden from going to bars or taverns and he must take psychological counselling. A court order bars him from driving.
Ramage told the board that he hasn’t touched alcohol since the crash and he is dedicated to speaking to young athletes and community groups about the danger of drinking and driving.
“This isn’t the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs sitting here, this is just another guy who got drunk and went out and killed somebody,” Ramage said, his voice rising and his face flush with emotion. “I can’t change what I did but I can change some other people … hopefully so they don’t end up destroying lives like I did.”
He called this episode in his life and the lives of those affected a “horrific nightmare.” He said he thinks about his victims every day.
The board members grilled Ramage about his spotty memory about the events of Dec. 14 before the crash. Ramage and Magnuson attended the funeral of another former NHLer and then went to a reception. They also stopped at a beer store at 11:30 a.m., bought a six pack and drank in the parking lot inside their car.
“I don’t really remember going in there,” Ramage said. He described the parking-lot episode as “totally out of character for both of us.”
Malcolm pointed out that a toxicologist concluded that Ramage had 15 to 20 drinks in the hours before the crash, yet no one at the reception recalled that he seemed impaired, suggesting he had developed a tolerance for large quantities of alcohol.
Ramage said he is a social drinker, not an alcoholic, although alcohol caused problems very early in his marriage.
“That’s a mystery, as far as my tolerance level,” he told the parole board. Ramage said he does not remember how many drinks he had at the reception.
“A tragedy did happen,” Ramage said. “I take full responsibility. I wish I could recall every detail of that afternoon.”
Ramage will sleep in the halfway house and will be permitted to leave daily. He said he has been offered a job working for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
His sentence expires July 2014.
(This story appeared first at thestar.com)
The story above, written for the Toronto Star, was fairly brief, so many interesting comments from Ramage were left in my notebook. Here’s a few that did not make it into the newspaper story:
Ramage was asked if he thinks the sentence he was handed, one of the stiffest in Ontario for a drunk driver with no criminal record, was fair:
“A life is lost and I’m [thinking] back to the Old Testament if you want, an eye for an eye. I put myself in a situation, so I long ago stopped judging that sentence, whether it’s fair, unfair, I accept it. No one else was driving that car that day.”
He spoke about Michelle Pacheco, a woman driving an SUV that Ramage drove his car into. Pacheco suffered serious injuries:
“I think about how a regular mother left work, a working mother put in a long day working to get home to her family and on the commute, then all of a sudden, boom … she is certainly is very, very prominent in my thoughts.”
Ramage was asked why he is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in prison if he’s not an alcoholic. He referred obliquely to the recent closing of the prison farm where inmates worked at Frontenac Institution:
“I’m in here on an alcohol offence and once I got here, [I wondered] how do you utilize your time and the cows are gone, there’s not a lot of work, the work that is here is minimal.”
(One other footnote: Ramage had a copy of a recently published hockey biography on the table in front of him when he appeared before the parole board. Ramage insisted it wasn’t a “prop.” He said he brought Tough Guy, a memoir about the substance-abusing pro hockey player Bob Probert, with him to give to his brother. Probert died suddenly in July 2010 at age 45. He was notorious for his hard drinking and his hockey fistfights.)