Drug dealing on Mad Cowz gang turf likely behind arson, court hears

Drug dealing on Mad Cowz gang turf likely behind arson, court hears

Justin Kirstein thought he was going to die when his arms and legs became covered in flames after a Molotov cocktail was thrown through a window and onto his bed, he testified in a Manitoba provincial court on Thursday.

Michael Ndlovu and Dallas Perreault are on trial for arson charges, including arson with disregard for human life, after a Winnipeg house fire on July 16, 2016 left Kirstein with serious burns to his legs and arms. 

The five-day trial in front of provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie began with Kirstein telling court that he was a former member of the B-Side street gang and suspected he'd gotten on the wrong side of the Mad Cowz gang when he moved to a two-storey home on the 500 block of Young Street.

The house was a base for selling crack, he said, and it was infringing on Mad Cowz turf. 

On the night of the fire, Kirstein went to bed just after midnight. He woke up around 3 a.m. when his girlfriend also came to bed. He decided to send a text and spotted two people through a window that was beside the bed. At the time, he only knew the two by their Facebook profile names, and later identified them as Ndlovu and Perreault. 

He alleges both were in the Mad Cowz.

Kirstein tried to get back to sleep but a while later a rock crashed through the bedroom window, followed by a Molotov cocktail, he told court. His body lit on fire and he burned his girlfriend when he pushed her to get out of the bed.

"I figured I was dead," Kirstein said.

He eventually got out of the house and called 911. Four people — Kirstein, his girlfriend and two boys — escaped the fire. Damage to the home was estimated at $105,000.

In court, Kirstein pulled up compression sleeves he has to wear on his arms to deal with the burns. He pointed to severe burns on both arms and described burns up his legs.

Kirstein said he's also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since the fire.

Charged with firearms offences, trafficking

Defence lawyer Josh Rogala questioned Kirstein's memory of the event and asked about inconsistencies in his conversations with police after the fire. He also asked whether Kirstein told police about guns in the house when they arrived on the scene. 

"I was on fire. I had more important things to worry about than hiding firearms," Kirstein responded. 

Kirstein was also charged following the fire with multiple firearms offences and trafficking.

Emergency personnel who were dealing with the house fire found materials that prompted a separate investigation into weapons and drugs, police said at the time of the arrest. 

Kirstein will continue testifying on Friday.