Fishing trip turns to racist attack

MICHELE MANDEL

, Last Updated: 3:44 AM ET

NEWMARKET -- It sounds like something out of a hillbilly horror film.

A group of Toronto pals had driven up to Sutton for some late-night fishing only to be confronted in an attack that saw two Asian-Canadian friends pushed into the water and their Honda Civic rammed off the road in a wild high-speed chase that left one of them with permanent brain damage.

That's what court heard yesterday as the trial opened for Trevor Middleton, the 23-year-old Sutton man allegedly behind the wheel of the green Ford F-150 pickup truck that repeatedly hit and chased the Toronto men's car in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2007.

He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of aggravated assault and two of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

"This is to some extent a criminal driving case, where it is alleged Mr. Middleton used his pickup truck in anger -- and as a weapon -- to repeatedly ram and ultimately force another car off the road resulting in a disastrous collision," assistant Crown attorney Amit Ghosh told the eight-woman, four-man jury. "Some people were hurt very badly, one individual with permanent and life-changing injuries."

Two men were thrown from the back of the Honda after it hit a tree at high speed.

Charles Hogan landed in the lake and suffered hypothermia, whiplash, head injuries and a gash to his hand.

But the jury heard that Shayne Berwick, now 26, suffered the worst of it -- the apprentice electrician's head and body struck a tree, fracturing his skull, breaking 10 ribs and leaving him with permanent brain damage. "Two years later," the Crown told the jury, "he is still confined to a wheelchair."

His stepmom, Terry Berwick, sat in the front row of the tiny courtroom, wiping away tears. Behind her sat representatives from Asian-Canadian rights groups concerned about a rash of attacks against anglers from their community. The senseless tragedy began with "nip tipping," the jury heard.

A group of about 10 to 20 local friends from Georgina had been drinking that night and were driving around Sutton in three pickup trucks when Middleton led them to the Mossington Bridge -- known locally as the Blue Bridge -- to "come party."

Ghosh said they headed to the dock where some people were fishing. When Peter Way, one of the local group, asked why they were all in a hurry, he was told "we're nip-tipping."

Way knew it was a racist term referring to Asian fishermen but wasn't exactly sure what they intended to do, Ghosh said.

"We're going to push them into the water," Way was told.

The Toronto group had no idea what awaited them.

Ruo Hang Liu, now a senior analyst for an investment firm, and six of his friends -- including Hogan and Berwick -- had taken two cars to fish off the pier near the Blue Bridge after some of their pals had been the night before.

They arrived around 1:30 a.m. and had been fishing about an hour, Liu said, when he noticed three trucks cross the bridge and then 15 to 20 people head their way, eventually surrounding them on the pier.

One of the locals approached Hogan, while another confronted Liu. "He said that he's Canadian and he's doing his Canadian duty and wanted to see my fishing licence," testified Liu, 24.

At first, he thought he was kidding. But he didn't want any trouble, he said, so he went to pull out his fishing licence from his wallet.

The next thing he knew, someone was pushing him from behind into the lake.

His friend Hogan was also thrown into the water before the locals ran back to their pickup trucks and drove off

The Crown said Stephen French, a longtime friend of Middleton, will testify he'd been drinking that night but he believes he saw Middleton shove one of the anglers into the lake. But Ghosh told the jury that Middleton is not facing charges for anything that happened at the dock.

Instead, they stem from the high-speed chase that followed.

Nick Perry, one of the locals, had been left behind and got into a fight with the Toronto fishermen, Ghosh said. Meanwhile, Middleton turned his pickup around and went back toward the Blue Bridge, where he found Perry lying injured on the side of the road.

SURVEILLANCE VIDEO

An angry Middleton then got back into his truck and began chasing four of the seven Toronto men who were now in Liu's Honda, the Crown said.

He showed the jury photos of a crumpled Civic, its rear bumper completely ripped off, and surveillance video showing a pickup truck right on the tail of a Honda.

"I expect you will hear a frantic 911 call made by the occupants of the Honda Civic," the prosecutor told the jury. "You will hear evidence from the occupants of this Honda Civic that they were being chased at high speeds by what the driver ultimately observes as a teal or green Ford F-150 pickup truck. You will also hear evidence that this pickup truck was ramming them repeatedly from behind."

It sounds like a horrifying scene from Deliverance. And yet it is allegedly only too real -- and happened right in our backyard.

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