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Brockville manslaughter trial: Teen girl pushed 33-year-old man, court hears

Ottawa Citizen logo Ottawa Citizen 5 days ago Wayne Lowrie
a person holding a sign: A memorial to Damian Sobieraj. © Ronald Zajac A memorial to Damian Sobieraj.

A 14-year-old Brockville girl shoved Damian Sobieraj into the St. Lawrence River as the 33-year-old man was holding on to two of her friends, a young witness testified on Wednesday.

The boy, who was 14 at the time, heard a splash and three cries of help from Sobieraj, who couldn’t swim, he told the Ontario Court of Justice.

The lad and a friend rushed to the bank of the river in Hardy Park in time to see Sobieraj sink below the waves.

His friend said the drowning seemed staged – like something you’d see in the movies – and he wondered whether the man was faking to scare the kids, he testified.

None of the youths made any attempt to save the drowning man, the boy, now 15 years old, testified.

“He drowned and none of us helped him,” he told the court.

Instead they fled Hardy Park, knowing that Sobieraj had called 911.

The girl has been charged with manslaughter in Sobieraj’s death on the night of Sept. 13, 2018. The boy’s testimony was the first to tie her to Sobierai’s death during three days of trial.

The girl was distraught and crying after she pushed Sobieraj into the water, the boy testified. When the youths were stopped by police on the Brock Trail after running from the park, her friends made up a fictitious story to explain the girl’s crying to officers, he added.

The boy, who was among a group of youths who hung out at the park, said he first saw Sobieraj in Hardy Park after 10 p.m. when Sobieraj and his little dog approached some youths who were damaging a tree in the park.

The youths had ripped limbs off a tree and were using the branches to pummel the tree while shouting obscenities, the boy testified. The kids in the park had been drinking alcoholic coolers called Gin Smash, the boy said. (They taste like “toothpaste,” he told the court.)

Sobieraj intervened, shouting at the youths to stop damaging the tree, the boy recounted. At one point Sobieraj tried to grab a branch away from one of the three youths.

The boy testified that another youth, one of the largest in the group, entered the fray to shove Sobieraj in the chest with two hands. It was then that Sobieraj took out his phone to call 911, telling the youths that he planned to tell the cops that they were harassing him.

The boy testified that the kids got nervous at Sobieraj’s talk of police. The lad insisted that Sobieraj was the aggressor, not the kids, and that the older man was the one doing the harassing.

The argument with the youths and Sobieraj continued down to the riverfront, the boy testified. When two of the tree-whacking kids tried to escape, the boy said, Sobieraj grabbed them by the shoulder in an apparent attempt to detain them. The boys were much smaller than the five-foot, nine-inch Sobieraj, he said.

It was then that the accused girl came out of the park at a jog and pushed Sobieraj into the water, according to the witness.

Until that point, the boy told the court, the girl had not been involved in the encounters with Sobieraj, although she had been among the kids drinking the coolers.

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Paige McFadden and her friend Philip Watson, both now 27, had been pushing McFadden’s baby in a stroller through Hardy Park that evening when they spotted the youths whacking the tree, they testified.

McFadden said the kids were being rowdy and obnoxious, screaming obscenities. One of the youths was screaming about killing a mother and father as he struck the tree with the branch, she said.

The pair testified that they decided to steer clear of the rowdy youths near the bandshell and took the path to the riverside boardwalk.

They passed a heavyset girl, whom Watson identified as the accused, sitting by herself on a bench near the water. The girl appeared depressed and she was staring at her phone, perhaps texting, McFadden testified.

A few minutes later, the pair said they heard what sounded like a fight down by the water. McFadden said she heard a splash and “hooting and hollering.”

Soon about five youths, including the accused, rushed past them, with one of the youths ordering the pair not to tell police they had seen them.

Watson said one young boy stopped near him and said “couldn’t swim, couldn’t swim,” but Watson couldn’t figure out what or whom he was talking about.

The trial continues.

wlowrie@postmedia.com


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