SIU clears Leeds O.P.P. officer in Jasper chase

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

WARNING: This story contains details which may be disturbing to some. Discretion is advised.

JASPER – The Ontario Special Investigations Unit says there are no reasonable grounds to charge a Leeds County O.P.P. officer involved in last year’s high speed fatal crash in Elizabethtown-Kitley Township.

An 18-year-old driver died May 19, 2016 after a Leeds County O.P.P. officer pursued the teen from the hamlet of Jasper.

The suspect vehicle was travelling northbound on County Road 17 at 100 kilometers an hour in a 50 kilometer an hour zone when it met an oncoming cruiser, states a report by SIU Director Tony Loparco.

When the officer turned around and followed the Hyundai, the vehicle turned on Kitley Line 2 where it later went in the ditch and rolled, ejecting the teenage driver through the sunroof.

The officer, who agreed to be interviewed by the SIU, said he did not activate his emergency lights but followed about 300 meters behind the complainant’s vehicle. The officer had also been held up by other traffic on the road. It wasn’t until he was on Kitley Line 2 that he activated his emergency lights, but then turned them off again, according to his notes.

However, the officer’s account was contradicted by two independent witnesses.

After radioing dispatch while on Kitley Line 2, the officer came upon the crash scene.

Data collected from the computer in the victim’s vehicle shows the car was “travelling at a speed of 170 km/h five seconds prior to event 1, which was most likely his vehicle first entering the ditch and the front driver side impacting the ditch,” the report states.

The car then went airborne, backwards, into a row of trees, striking several large trees on the roof and driver’s side of the vehicle.

The abrupt stop of the car smashing into the trees, ejected the teen through the sunroof, according to the SIU report.

The driver was taken to hospital where he died of his injuries. An autopsy later determined the cause of death as “multiple injuries.”

According to a submission from the Center of Forensic Sciences contained in the report, blood and urine tests discovered measurable levels of THC (40 ng/ml of tetrahydrocannabinol) and a byproduct found when the body metabolizes cocaine (0.22 mg/l of benzoylecgonine).

During the course of the investigation, 12 civilian witnesses and five police witnesses gave their account of events to the SIU.

In his decision, Director Loparco admonished the O.P.P. officer. “Semantics aside, there can be no confusion that a cruiser travelling at that rate of speed following a motor vehicle is clearly in pursuit. The SO (subject officer) had an obligation to report to the dispatcher that he was engaged in a pursuit as soon as it was initiated,” he wrote.

Data collected showed the cruiser travelling at 165.2 kilometers an hour on County Road 17.

“I cannot fathom any reasonable person believing that issuing a speeding ticket would have outweighed the risk to public safety of continuing to pursue a motor vehicle at the speeds which the SO did,” Loparco wrote.

While evidence showed the officer was likely travelling up to 85 kilometers an hour over the speed limit, Loparco ruled that the officer’s actions did not meet the level of criminal negligence and that there was “no evidence that the SO’s driving created a danger to other users of the roadway or that at any time he interfered with other traffic.”

The director did note that the officer’s actions likely did “exacerbate the Complainant’s pattern of driving” but there was no evidence directly linking the officer’s behaviour with the eventual crash.

Based on the evidence, Loparco found that the officer’s action did not rise to “a marked departure from the norm” or “a marked and substantial departure from the norm”.

There was a passenger in the victim’s vehicle, who was not injured.

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