Road Rage: Accused Man Receives Acquittal Only After Hiring Third Lawyer to Represent Him

Update:   

John Hoang, 31, right, talks to his lawyer Robb MacDonald, outside Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday. Justice George Strathy acquitted Hoang of charges of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon, ruling he stabbed another motorist with a box cutter in self-defence during a road rage dispute. Photo by Peter Small/Toronto Star

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The lowest point for John Hoang was lying in St. Michael’s Hospital, battered, bleeding and handcuffed, with two court officers watching over him.

How did a man with no criminal record get charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon for what started as a traffic dispute?

How did he get housed in Don Jail with accused murderers, who punched and kicked him in the showers — stabbing his head and breaking his orbital bone and nose?

“I felt like I had no chance. I felt my life was gone,” Hoang, 31, recalled Tuesday.

Two lawyers told him his road-rage stabbing case was so hopeless he’d best plead guilty and go to jail for three years, advice he ultimately rejected. “It would have labeled me for the rest of my life,” he says. “I know what happened that day.”

A week before the trial, the desperate defendant finally found a lawyer, Robb MacDonald, determined to do battle in court.

On Monday, Ontario Superior Court Justice George Strathy acquitted Hoang after a four-day trial, finding he stabbed another motorist with a box cutter in self-defence.

But that wasn’t before Hoang spent a total of $30,000 on legal bills, was fired from his longstanding mailroom job and saw his fiancée walk away.

Hoang had just exited Highway 401 and was driving north in his Honda Civic on Neilson Rd. at around 7 a.m. on March 29, 2010, when a Toyota Camry cut in and hit the right front of his car.

There was a loud boom and crunching sound, but the other car kept moving. Hoang honked and even threw a water bottle to attract the driver’s attention, without success.

Eventually he drove up beside the motorist, Gunanayagam Thurainayagam, 35, who agreed to pull over.

But Thurainayagam angrily denied hitting his car, leading to an argument, shoves and traded punches, Hoang says.

Hoang testified that Thurainayagam then found a metre-long piece of steel rebar on the ground, made a growling noise and aimed at his head.

“It was like a dream where you want to scream and no one’s around,” he says.

Fending off the bar with his left arm, Hoang used his right hand to retrieve a box cutter he used at work from his pocket. He stabbed Thurainayagam a few times in the shoulder and back, causing him to flee.

In shock, his teeth chattering, his finger pouring blood, Hoang drove home and slept for several hours. When he awoke, he learned police were after him. He turned himself in the next day.

At trial, Thurainayagam testified there was no accident, and Hoang calmly asked him for $1,000 to fix his car, later dropping his request to $500, then $200.

Thurainayagam refused, but they still shook hands and parted, he testified. Then Hoang suddenly snapped and stabbed him, Thurainayagam told the judge.

Strathy found Thurainayagam’s account difficult to accept, and ruled the Hoang honestly believed “the only means to save himself was by inflicting grievous bodily harm on the complainant.”

Hoang says he’s learned a lesson: “Avoid conflict at all costs.”

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