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By Maurice Cacho and Richard Maerov

When classmates of Ryerson student Wang-Piao Dumani Ross came to class Friday, they were shocked to hear he was involved in an illegal street race that killed a taxi cab driver.

Ross, a Diploma in Arts student, has been charged with criminal negligence causing death, failing to stop after an accident causing death, and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. He was released on $50,000 bail Tuesday afternoon.

Police allege Ross and former high-school classmate Alexander Ryazanov were racing their parents’ Mercedes-Benz sedans up Mount Pleasant Road last Tuesday night at speeds around 140 km/h. Ryazanov crashed into cab driver Tahir Khan, who was turning left across their lanes, slamming the cab into a pole and killing Khan instantly.

According to police reports, Ross parked his car away from the accident and returned on foot posing as a bystander. First-year classmate Shantelle Armbrister was supposed to meet Ross that night for a movie. When he didn’t call to finalize their plans, she became puzzled.

“He wanted to get to know me better, or at least that’s what he told me,” she said. “I was getting frustrated, wondering why he didn’t call. “Then I got a call from my friend who said, ‘take a look at the news on TV,’ and when I saw what happened I thought he was dead. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Ryerson Criminal Justice professor Tammy Landau suggests that while Ross may be convicted, he won’t be imprisoned for more than two years. Armbrister, who had been friends with Ross since the term started in January, is disappointed with what happened. “I think he made a bad decision. It was shocking to me,” she said.

Classmates described Ross as very smart, often challenging his professors in class. “He would prove them wrong,” said Tanisha Chance, a first-year student in Ross’s math class. “He would say ‘that’s not how it happened,’ and he’d be right.” Ross wanted to apply to an engineering program at university. Chance said he was very good at math and had promised to tutor her and Armbrister. She also said the outgoing student would often joke around and flirted with girls.

“I would say, ‘You talk to too many girls,’ and he would say, ‘No I don’t,’ but he was always sitting next to different girls in class so he could meet them,” said Chance, who saw Ross at school on the day of the accident. She said he never drove to school. Ross was a member of the Rooted African and Caribbean Association, a Ryerson student group.

Sydney Stagg, head of the Diploma in Arts department, said she knew Ross extremely well, but was not permitted to speak on the matter. Ross and Ryazanov were former boarding schoolmates at St. Andrew’s College, a prestigious private boys school in Aurora, Ont. They graduated in June 2004.

An empty Need for Speed box, formerly containing a video game allowing players to race high-performance cars in city streets, was found in the passenger seat of Ryazanov’s car. Toronto police said it could potentially be used as evidence as a source of introducing a “state of mind.”

But Staff Sgt. Don Cole of the Toronto police services duty desk doesn’t think the game prompted them to drive recklessly. “These kids have got a brain, even if they weren’t exactly thinking straight that night. If they can’t separate fantasy from reality, then they should be locked up … for the rest of their lives,” Cole said. Moe Malik, a first-year Ryerson social work student and friend of Ross’s, hugged Ross’s father after the hearing was over. He expected to speak to Ross once he got home.

“He’ll definitely be happy to see everyone again,” said Malik. “He doesn’t deserve to be in this situation. He’s better than that. He’s not a trouble-maker.” Yesterday, Ross and Ryazanov stood emotionless in front of a packed courtroom as they heard their bail conditions, which include having to go to every class at school and to keep living with their parents. They must remain in the province of Ontario and are forbidden to operate any vehicles. Ross’s next court date is set for Feb. 23.

Crown attorney Dominic Basile said “the Crown has a very strong case” for the trial, which does not yet have a set date. Malik said it was unfair the way officials were trying to intimidate Ross. “Everyone is trying to scare him and shake him up, even the lawyers.” Ross’s lawyer said it has been “very difficult” for his client, but that bail conditions were appropriate. Toronto cab driver Sajid Maghal was present at the hearing. He felt justice had not been served.

“What about the guy whose kids lost their dad? The lady who lost her husband? He cannot come back, nobody can replace him,” he said.

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