Police chase shown in court
The showing of a dash cam video from a Kelowna RCMP cruiser, involved in the chase of three people who allegedly fired at police, dominated the attempted murder trial of Michael Edward Ellis on Wednesday.
The 41-year-old man, who already has a long criminal record that includes a previous chase from police in 2007, has pleaded not guilty to 22 charges – including using a restricted firearm and dangerous driving.
At times Ellis seemed to watch the hour-long video with amusement as he sat forward in the prisoner's box, while other times he would stretch and yawn, with his elbow cradling his head to keep it up.
The car chase from July 31, 2012 played out in broad daylight, just after 1 p.m. and stretched for 79 kilometres from Boucherie Road in West Kelowna to Highway 97 in Vernon.
Most of the chase took place along the hazardous Westside Road that runs along Lake Okanagan.
Video presented as evidence by the Crown was taken from the car of Cst. Jetta Williams, a traffic services officer with over 22 years experience.
She had arrived early for her 2 p.m. shift when a call of shots fired was relayed over the radio. Moments later, another call came along saying that police had been shot at, Williams said.
As she and another officer made their way across the William R. Bennett Bridge from Kelowna, they began to learn more information; the suspects were allegedly car jacking multiple vehicles as they made their way north down Westside Road.
The video shown in court, complete with audio of police radio traffic, detailed the disturbing scene as it unfolded for Williams. She and other officers were just minutes behind the suspects' vehicle, while more officers warned each other over the radio of what was happening in their locations.
The chase began around 1:40 p.m., the recording showed multiple construction roadblocks, heavy traffic and numerous pedestrians alongside Westside Road as the chase progressed. The officer’s car is seen accelerating along at speeds between 120-160 kilometres per hour, she told the court, as the radio continuously crackles with information.
At 1:46 it can be heard that a suspect got out of a car with a firearm; a few minutes later at 1:51, they are said to have changed vehicles to a red Dodge. Four minutes after that, they are said to have changed again, this time to a black pickup truck.
Around this time RCMP Cpl. Richard Gingras is heard for the first time. He is a dog handler from Vernon who was driving south on Westside Road to cut off the suspects vehicle.
He tells officers that he is pulling over at Elliot Road and will wait for them to pass. Gingras eventually pulls out and is heard on the video radioing other officers that the black truck is directly behind him.
“He’s right behind me. He’s shooting at me with a rifle,” Gingras exclaims, as what sound like gunshots can be heard over the radio.
“He’s shooting the back of my truck. He’s got a big powerful rifle.”
This continues for a few minutes as Gingras tells officers he has nowhere to turn off Westside Road and is worried that if he does, they will shoot at him more.
Other officers quickly come on the radio letting Gingras know that help is coming as fast as they can.
Earlier Williams had teared up when telling the court what it was like trying to reach the officer getting shot at, but kept her composure and continued her testimony.
The suspects' vehicle was finally stopped with the help of a spike strip, near Old Kamloops Road. Sgt. Brian Nightengale, a forensic collision reconstructionist who had taken the stand earlier in the day, told the court there were seven separate crime scenes from that day.
He described finding numerous bullet casings, a couple of vehicles with bullet holes, and the final suspect vehicle which had the rubber worn off its tires and rim impressions left in the road, consistent with that of a spike belt.
Two other people accused of being with Ellis have already pleaded guilty to their parts in the chase.
Shawn Adam Wysynski, 34, pleaded guilty to robbery with a firearm and attempted robbery with a firearm. Ashlee Collins, who was only 19 at the time, pleaded guilty to being in a vehicle where there were illegal firearms. Both will be sentenced at a later date.
Collins suffered a gunshot wound during the chase while riding in the box of the stolen pickup truck and had to be rushed to hospital.
The trial for Ellis is expected to last multiple weeks and see over 30 witnesses take the stand.
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