The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) has determined police are not to blame for a crash near Whitemud Drive in Edmonton that claimed the life of an innocent man and woman in their 60s.
“It has been determined there are no reasonable grounds to believe that any EPS (Edmonton Police Service) officer committed any Criminal Code offence,” ASIRT said in a news release on Wednesday.
The investigation dates back to July 2017, when an EPS officer in a ghost car began following a stolen truck. When the driver of the truck whipped a U-turn at a dead end, police said he became aware of their presence.
Officers attempted to use a spike belt to stop the vehicle, but were unsuccessful and the truck driver sped off.
A criminal flight was engaged and multiple police vehicles started a pursuit.
“The stolen truck headed east onto Whitemud Drive at an estimated speed of 100 km/hr,” ASIRT said. “When police radioed in that the truck had crossed the centre line and entered the opposing lane, the ranking officer in command at the time ordered all EPS units to discontinue the pursuit.
“As required, all the police vehicles pulled over onto the side of the road and deactivated their emergency equipment.”
One unmarked police vehicle was directed to follow the truck “in a covert fashion” but the officer lost track of the stolen truck.
That’s when ASIRT said the stolen truck exited Whitemud using the off-ramp for Anthony Henday Drive, going the wrong direction.
At that point, the truck collided head-on with another vehicle that had a 64-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman inside.
The man was pronounced dead on scene, while the woman was transported to hospital with multiple injuries. She later died in hospital.
The victims were later identified as partners Ken Ahronson and Stella Constantin.
After the crash, the occupants of the stolen truck allegedly fled on foot, while occupants of other vehicles and police officers stopped to provide first aid and called 911.
Police said three suspects were eventually arrested. They were not injured.
ASIRT was called “to determine whether the deaths that resulted from this incident were the result of police action.”
Investigators heard from witnesses that said at the time of the collision, there were no police vehicles following the truck.
“A review of recorded police communications confirmed that immediately upon being notified that the stolen vehicle had entered the wrong lane, the ranking officer in command provided the order ‘terminate, terminate’ over the radio. All the involved officers acknowledged hearing the command and immediately stopped pursuing the truck,” ASIRT said.
GPS trackers were able to confirm that at the time of the crash, police vehicles were either stopped or far away from the scene.
“On the basis of a significant volume of evidence, it is beyond dispute that in response to an escalating risk, EPS members immediately discontinued their pursuit in attempt to mitigate those risks,” ASIRT concluded. “The actions of EPS officers during this incident demonstrate awareness and responsiveness to the escalating behaviour of the stolen vehicle’s driver.
“As such, it cannot be said that any EPS officer caused or contributed to the two deaths that resulted from this collision.
“In many ways, police are caught in an inescapable dilemma,” the police watchdog said. “If they terminate the pursuit, and the offenders continue to proceed dangerously, police are criticized for failing to stop the offenders before the subsequent catastrophic event could occur. If police continue the pursuit, and a catastrophic event occurs anyway, they are criticized for not de-escalating the situation by terminating the pursuit and ‘allowing’ offenders to end their dangerous driving. It is often devastating when, regardless of the decision made, innocent members of the public are still injured or killed.”
Police went on to charge three people in connection with the incident.
Zachary James Grogan, 32, was charged with two counts each of failing to stop at the scene of an accident involving death, flight from a peace officer causing death, dangerous driving causing death and one count of possession of stolen property over $5,000.
Alisha Grace Roode, 27, was charged with two counts each of possession of an identity document and possession of identity information. She was also charged with one count each of possession of stolen property over $5,000 and possession of a controlled substance.
Trent James Ferris, 29, was charged with possession of stolen property over $5,000 and assaulting a peace officer.
At the time, investigators were working to identify a fourth suspect — a man — who was not immediately apprehended after allegedly running away from the crash.
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