On the third day of the trial for the man accused of killing a Toronto police officer, the court heard testimony from witnesses of the final moments of Sgt. Ryan Russell’s life, as well as watch a video of the officer in pursuit of a stolen snowplow.
Russell, 35, was struck down near Avenue Road and Dupont Street on Jan. 12, 2011, while trying to stop the snowplow. His police cruiser camera recorded him pursuing the stolen vehicle, the cruiser being struck by the snowplow and then two police officers running to help Russell who’s out of the camera’s viewfinder.
Richard Kachkar, 46, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and to dangerous driving. The trial, which began Monday, is expected to last two months.
After a full day of testimony on Wednesday, officer Sarah Andrews was the last to take the stand. She and her partner were the first officers to the scene.
“We pulled up on scene. We jumped out of the car and I ran up to a body on the ground.”
Andrews testified paramedics told her to roll Russell over, which she said was difficult because of the size difference.
“He was big. I had to try two times. I ended up rolling him over on top of me,” she explained.
“I could feel a hole at the back of his head. There was so much blood everywhere.”
She said she couldn’t find a pulse but when she put her face to his cheek she could feel warm air.
“I held his hand. I told him he had to fight and hold on. That help was coming.”
Andrews wept as she told the court she put her hand inside his vest.
“He was warm but I couldn’t feel his heart beating.”
She said he was bleeding very badly but she continued to hold his hand and talk to him until “I couldn’t feel the breath on my cheek anymore.”
Kachkar’s mental state
Justice Ian MacDonnell told the jury of six men and six women on Monday morning that this case was “not a whodunit.”
“There is no dispute Mr. Kachkar was driving the truck that killed Sgt. Russell…This case will centre around Mr. Kachkar’s state of mind,” he said.
On Tuesday, the court heard from other taxi drivers and witnesses who described their encounters with a hostile and erratic Kachkar that fateful day.
Cab driver Sukhjit Singh testified earlier Wednesday that Kachkar hit his cab as well as other ones before he heard the gunshots. He left his car and saw a horrific scene.
“I see someone lying in the middle of the road. It was still a bit dark. It was a pedestrian either shot or hit by a car. I asked a tow truck guy what happened and he walked toward the body.
“I stayed back and looked. Then I see a badge. There was blood all over the chest. The tow truck driver went to the guy and in a second the police were there,” Singh said.
Hamid Azarbani, an electrician who was driving to work, testified Wednesday he saw the police car with its headlights on following the snowplow.
“After that, the plow stopped for about two or three seconds. I notice the plow does a U-turn and the officer came out of the car,” he said.
“As soon as the plow hit the police car, the police officer started shooting. I heard the shots, about three, and [I saw him] hit the officer.
“I saw half of his body was dragging along the ground and the plow drove on,” Azarbani said.
Azarbani said he witnessed Russell’s last moments: “I saw his feet was shaking and all of a sudden stopped.”
Vance Cooper testified Wednesday he saw Russell immediately before and after he was struck, but didn’t see the crash itself.
Cooper was driving toward Dupont when he saw flashing lights. At first, he said he thought Kachkar and Russell were co-operating.
“I see a plow doing something; I see a police car. The officer is out of his vehicle,” he said.
The officer was wearing dark blue, Cooper said, and he was clearly visible.
“He had his left arm out and I thought he was directing me to stop. I thought they were working together in a plowing operation,” he said.
“The plow continues to turn and now [the officer’s] right arm is extended. I don’t see a gun but I heard two or three pops. The plow continued to drive,” Cooper testified.
“The plow was less than five car lengths away and kept moving toward the officer. I saw the plow bearing down on the officer and I’m holding my breath that he can get out of the way,” he said.
There was room for Kachkar to avoid hitting the car, Cooper said: all six lanes were clear.
Cooper said he did not see Russell get hit but he was there immediately after.
“I got within 20 feet and I saw a pool of blood forming around his head. Police then arrived to attend to him,” Cooper said.
“It was out of this world, what just happened.”
At first, Cooper testified he thought he should chase the snowplow.
“But if he wasn’t stopping for an officer firing shots, he’s not going to stop for me,” he said.
Cooper left his business card with an officer and went to work.
Maurice Lopes was driving to his job at the Union Station rail yard when he saw Russell and the snowplow, the court heard Wednesday.
He, like Cooper, thought they were co-operating at first.
“I soon came to a different conclusion,” Lopes testified.
“I hear three gun shots and it dawns on me something is amiss. I’m shocked.”
Lopes was driving southbound behind the snowplow and didn’t see it hit the police cruiser.
“I was expecting gun shots to sound different. You think it’s ‘bang bang’ but it’s more like ‘pop pop.’ It was terribly unusual. I wasn’t expecting that. I had misread the whole situation,” he said.
“I see the officer on the ground. I went to call 911 and by that time, I could already hear sirens approaching.”
Tow truck driver Herculano Pereira, who ran to Russell’s aid after he was struck, then took to the stand.
He testified that he’d heard calls on his radio that a truck was hitting multiple vehicles and driving away. When headed over to Avenue Road he saw the police car following the plow, before the it turned around and headed toward Russell’s car.
“The police reversed. Stopped,” Pereira said.”The drivers door on the cop car opened and he got out. It was pretty obvious he was a police officer in full uniform.”
Pereira testified after the plow struck the vehicle and Russell began shooting, the truck “straightens out to head right toward the officer.”
He said after Russell was hit he went to his side and called for help.
“I went to officer. He was face down, blood running down from his head. I was trying to call 911. I took his radio and tried to call for help.”
He said he told the 911 officer Russell was not conscious and not breathing, at which point other officers arrived on scene and took over.