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Police not at fault in fatal Valley East pursuit

Watchdog concludes investigation into January collision in which suspect fled police

Ontario's police watchdog has cleared a Greater Sudbury Police officer involved in a brief pursuit of a suspect Jan. 15 on MR 80 in Valley East.

The suspect crashed his Audi into another vehicle, killing the 29-year-old suspect and seriously injuring the other driver. When someone is seriously injured or killed during an encounter with police, the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) automatically conducts a full investigation.

In this case, the evidence showed police first noticed a vehicle — later described as a silver Audi — driving at high speeds down MR 80 around 9:20 p.m. Officers reported the car, but didn't pursue because of driving conditions and the fact it went quickly out of sight.

At 11:50 p.m., a patrol car in the drive-thru at Tim Hortons in Hanmer noticed a silver Audi driving recklessly in the parking lot. It then left the parking lot, turning left onto MR 80 “at a high rate of speed,” said the SIU report.

“Given the speed at which the Audi was travelling and the roadway conditions, which were snowy and slippery with moderate traffic,” the report said, the officer decided not to pursue, but again reported it on the police radio.

Officers positioned on Dominion Drive were told the Audi was headed their way, and a minute later, the suspect's vehicle zoomed past, “at speeds grossly in excess of the 70 km/h speed limit. 

“The officers pulled onto MR 80 and gave chase for a short period, reaching a top speed of approximately 133 km/h, before pulling back,” the report said. The suspect “continued south at speeds well in excess of the speed limit until he lost control of his Audi, travelled into the northbound lanes of Municipal Road 80 and struck (the) northbound vehicle just south of the Valleyview Road intersection.” 

The driver of the Audi was seriously injured, the report said, and police noticed an open bottle of beer in the front console when they arrived on the scene. The suspect was making loud breathing noises that sounded like snoring, the report said, and he died four days later in hospital when he was disconnected from life support. 

The other driver was seriously injured, but survived.

To determine whether the officer acted appropriately, the SIU investigation had to determine whether the pursuit of the suspect was unreasonably dangerous under the circumstances. While expressing some concerns, the investigation concluded the officer's actions were reasonable. 

“I am satisfied on balance that the manner in which the officer operated his police vehicle fell within the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law,” wrote Joseph Martino, interim director of the SIU. 

“At a speed upwards of 130 km/h, the top speed reached by the (police officer) during his aborted pursuit, the officer was travelling at about twice the speed limit, a fact of some import given the snowy and slippery conditions at the time. That said, it bears reiterating that the officer quickly reduced his speed in concert with (the other patrol car's) admonition that the Audi not be pursued.”

Within reasonable limits, the law allows officers to speed when in the lawful performance of his or her duty, the report said, and that was the case here.

However, the SIU concluded he shouldn't have driven through a red light during the pursuit, even though he slowed to 33 km/h and didn't put any other vehicles at risk.

“The officer was obliged to come to a complete stop before traveling safely through the red signal, and he ought to have done so,” the report said. “On the other hand, it should be noted that there is no indication that (he) ever actually endangered anyone by the manner of his driving, including at the Main Street intersection, any third party motorists or pedestrians along MR80. 

“In fact, the evidence indicates that the (officer) was at all times a fair distance behind the Audi, allowing (the driver) every opportunity to reduce his speed and adopt a safer course.”

In fact, it's possible the Audi driver was unaware he was being pursued by police, the report said.

“I have no reasonable grounds to believe that the officer either caused or contributed to the collision in question, or otherwise drove dangerously in violation of the Criminal Code,” the report concluded.

Read the full investigation here.