TORONTO — Peter Kaczmarczyk, a Polish veteran of the Second World War and retired Toronto cab driver, was already an old man when he won nearly $8 million in the lottery in 2010. It turned his life upside down in a most unusual way.
Kaczmarczyk had been buying tickets with his regular coffee shop waitress, Krystyna Skwira, 52, with whom he split the winnings. It made a cute promotional story.
“Krystyna didn’t believe that we were going to win, but we did,” Kaczmarczyk said in a press release at the time. In the 1994 movie It Could Happen to You, based on a true story, this sort of scenario led to romance between the two winners, played by Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda.
In Kaczmarczyk’s case, however, the publicity of his win led to his long running prosecution on multiple charges of child rape, after a woman claimed to recognize him as her childhood tormentor.
Now, after a tense hearing in a Toronto courtroom Wednesday, the unusual case threatens to fall apart because of Kaczmarczyk’s claim that he is deathly ill, and unable to attend his own trial, which was supposed to start this week. His lawyer told a judge it would probably kill him.
When he won the big prize in 2010, a woman, 65, recognized Kaczmarczyk’s picture on the lottery website, and went to police. This was her mother’s former boyfriend, she claimed, who had sexually assaulted her for years in the 1950s and ’60s, before she ran away from home.
At the time of the alleged assaults, Kaczmarczyk would have been between the ages of 29 and 41. He had come to Canada in 1948, first building railroads with Canadian Pacific, later working as a cab driver.
The complainant was between the ages of four and 16.
Three years after she went to police, in 2013, Ontario prosecutors charged Kaczmarczyk with four counts each of rape and of sexual intercourse with a person not his wife under the age of 14, occurring between the years 1956 and 1968. (Historical offences are prosecuted under the laws as they were at the time, even though the Criminal Code has been changed.)
And then things got even more complicated. Two trial dates were missed for medical reasons. By the time the latest trial date was set, in June of last year, Kaczmarczyk was in increasingly poor health, according to his lawyer, Ron Palleschi. Over the following months, the trial was adjourned at least four times, once because Kaczmarczyk, who is now aged 90, had food poisoning. Today, Palleschi said he is being treated in Durham region for half a dozen separate maladies.
“It looks like he’s getting worse,” Palleschi told Ontario Superior Court Judge Carole Brown on Wednesday, as he asked for, and received, yet another adjournment of the case, this time until October.
As Palleschi described it, citing correspondence with Kaczmarczyk’s doctors, he has leukemia, dementia, and has had a heart attack, with the cumulative effect that if he were exposed to the stress of a trial, he is likely to have another heart attack or suffer “sudden death or catastrophic stroke.”
He described Kaczmarczyk’s ailments as very serious, not an effort to stall or delay the inevitable. He made a point of mentioning one doctor’s training in palliative care.
“He didn’t go to a walk-in clinic and get a note on a prescription pad, your honour,” Palleschi said.
As prosecutor John Flaherty put it, however, the situation is “wholly unsatisfactory,” with a serious criminal prosecution being stalled by “hearsay and generalized suggestions, buttressed by a family physician’s letter.”
“The trial should proceed tomorrow morning,” he said. When it became clear it would not, he loudly whispered to the police officer sitting beside him at the Crown’s table, “This is an outrage.”
Brown said she was “chagrined that we cannot proceed,” but acknowledged Kaczmarczyk’s “significant and severe” medical problems, and granted an adjournment until October, when there will be a second judicial pre-trial to try to sort it out.
The complainant could not be reached for comment. In an interview last year with Michele Mandel of the Toronto Sun, the woman described her embarrassment and shame, and said she buried her trauma for decades, eventually assuming her attacker was dead.
And then she checked her lottery numbers on the internet and saw that picture.
“I sat there for I don’t know how long,” she said. “And then I acted. I thought, ‘You’re not getting away with this.’”