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Hurt at Pearson, man left in coma

Jim Lindala

JIM LINDALA: Retired principal was on way to dream trip with wife.

Struck at airport by limo driver who had been ordered deported

By Kellie Hudson and Karen Palmer
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

A 63-year-old Markham man is fighting for his life after being struck by a limousine at Pearson International Airport, just as he was preparing to head off on a dream vacation with his wife.

And Jim Lindala's family wants to know why the driver of the car that hit him is still in Canada after being ordered deported more than four years ago.

Lindala was unloading his luggage from the back of a van on Dec. 6 at about 8 a.m. when he was hit from behind. Pinned between two vehicles, his right leg was nearly severed at the knee.

He was rushed to the hospital and his leg was amputated, but during the emergency operation, the recently retired school principal suffered a massive stroke.

He's been in a coma ever since.

Lindala and his wife, Viola, were just about to embark on their first vacation in two years, a two-week cruise in and around Hawaii.

``It will all work out in time,'' his wife said last night. ``Someone will have to pay in some way and it's not for me to decide who pays or how.''

Lindala's family wants to know how Mohammad T. Belfeteymouri Shafi got the keys to the cab.

Shafi, who lives in Scarborough, could not be reached for comment.

According to Immigration officials, Shafi was ordered deported in May, 1995, after a 1992 conviction for assault and mischief. He was sentenced to four months in jail at the time.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson Giovanna Gatti said her records show that Shafi arrived here from Iran sometime before 1989. The 41-year-old is a failed refugee claimant and has never had landed immigrant status, she said.

Shafi was charged after the airport accident with careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act and fined $365. He might have slipped back into obscurity if not for the gut instinct of a Peel Region police officer.

Constable Paul McKenna, who was on foot patrol at the airport, was called to the scene of the accident that morning, at the departures level of Terminal 3.

``I didn't think a careless driving charge was adequate, considering the amount of injury to the victim,'' the officer said in an interview yesterday.

``But that's all I had. I couldn't prove anything and I had no other evidence at the time.''

Shafi told McKenna he drove for Canada Limousine Service Inc., and produced a driver's licence and a Toronto taxi licence in his own name. He was not the registered owner of the vehicle, a 1995 blue Lincoln Town car.


`I had a gut feeling . . . that something was screwy'


Frustrated he couldn't lay a more serious charge, and suspicious about the man's behaviour, McKenna went to Immigration Canada at the airport and asked for check on Shafi.

``I had a gut feeling that he was giving false identification, that something was screwy,'' he said.

Investigation revealed the man was in Canada illegally, the subject of an outstanding deportation order.

Gatti confirmed that Shafi was detained by Immigration officials on Dec. 7, after they were notified by Peel police of the outstanding order. He was released on a $4,000 performance bond after a review before an adjudicator Dec. 11.

With a performance bond, money is only collected if the person doesn't follow through on certain conditions, such as showing up for deportation.

Although the deportation order for Shafi is still in effect, a date has not been set for his removal.


Driver was hired by cab company three months ago


``We don't discuss removal arrangements publicly prior to when it takes place,'' Gatti said. ``We will confirm that a removal has taken place.'' She also could not say why Shafi has remained in the country since 1995, or why he was released again a couple of weeks ago.

Gatti said there are many reasons someone's deportation order can be delayed, from difficulty getting travel documents to outstanding criminal charges.

The man who hired the illegal immigrant three months ago to work at his cab company said he thought Shafi had a proper work permit and legitimate references.

Hamid Hemmati, who has owned Canada Limousine Service for 10 years, said he knew of no outstanding deportation order.

``He has permission to work in Canada,'' Hemmati said. ``He has the minister's permit which allows him to work.''

Shafi had a clean driving record and was a good employee, Hemmati said, adding that he no longer works for the company.

``I did not fire him. I did not let him go. He decided for the time being not to work because he is depressed. He hit someone. The guy lost his leg. It's affected him emotionally. He regrets what happened.''

Meanwhile, a ventilator is keeping Lindala alive at Sunnybrook hospital.

``It's pretty grim,'' his wife said.

She was sitting in the back seat of the van when the accident occurred and accompanied her husband to the hospital. He remained conscious for the ambulance ride and was lucid enough to check himself in, she said.

While on the operating table, Lindala suffered a massive stroke that left him in a coma. A CAT scan revealed his brain had been damaged, and an MRI showed bone fragments from his amputated leg had settled around his skull.

The healthy, active senior had lived his entire live unaware he had a hole in his heart.

That hole had allowed bone marrow and other debris, which normally would recirculate through the body, to channel into his brain.

A vivacious man who only weeks earlier had packed dozens of Christmas packages for the local scout troop is now fighting for his life.

The couple met in teachers' college almost 40 years ago and married soon after. Their two sons, Paul and Erik, live and work in Toronto.

Lindala worked his way up the ladder to become principal at several Toronto-area public schools.

When he retired four years ago, he threw himself into fundraising for the second phase of a Finnish retirement home that the couple had seen to fruition years earlier.

As chairman of the board, he had helped build the seven-floor facility and was a frequent volunteer.

``To happen to a man who gave his whole life to serving other people. . . . He was just the kindest, most giving man,'' his wife said.

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