The widow of Toronto police Sergeant Ryan Russell wept in court Tuesday as dramatic audio and video clips were aired at the Richard Kachkar murder trial, capturing the slain officer’s final moments as he faced down a stolen snowplow bearing down upon him on Avenue Road.
“He’s coming at me, hold on,” Sgt. Russell is heard calmly telling the police dispatcher as the snowplow piloted by Mr. Kachkar is driven directly at the officer’s marked car.
At that point the sergeant is outside his car, after activating its roof flashers and video camera, watching the truck head north on Avenue Road.
But then it does a U-turn and heads south.
Moments later, the snowplow smashes into the cruiser, hitting the driver’s side, and then strikes the off-camera Sgt. Russell, mortally injuring him as he fires three shots from his sidearm.
As the tapes were played, airing what were likely the last words spoken by the 35-year-old officer, his widow, Christine, mother of their four-year-old son, was in tears.
So, too, were her own mother and three other supporters.
Sgt. Russell’s grandfather watched and listened from the front row with a steely face.
Earlier Tuesday, jurors listened keenly as an assortment of witnesses on Avenue Road that cold, snowy morning two years ago described the mayhem wrought by the marauding snowplow and the bizarre behaviour of the man who had commandeered it half an hour earlier.
Several witnesses told the jury that Mr. Kachkar – who had no drugs or alcohol in his system when he was arrested shortly after, save trace amounts of marijuana – appeared to be drunk or drugged.
An investor, John Donald, on his way to his gym club, told of Mr. Kachkar accosting him and asking if he wanted to go for a ride – a question he repeated to numerous onlookers during his two-hour rampage – and that if he did, “You’ll be in Facebook.”
Retirement home worker Liseria Dean testified that she too was asked if she wanted a ride, and when she and a companion said no, Mr. Kachkar swore at her.
Cab driver Salman Akbar, whose car was damaged when Mr. Kachkar did a U-turn at Bloor Street, recounted flagging down Sgt. Russell, who was en route to where Mr. Kachkar had just smashed into a luxury car dealership on Avenue Road, south of Davenport.
The snowplow – a heavy-duty pickup truck with a mechanized shovel mounted on the front – was travelling at between 80 and 100 km/h he estimated.
“Is it about the snowplow?” the officer asked him.
“We’re getting a lot of calls. Calm down, calm calm down, tell me what happened.”
Sgt. Russell told Mr. Akbar to stay where he was and file a report.
Then the officer sped north on Avenue Road.
The audio and video clips, which lasted just a few minutes, were recorded just after 6 a.m on Jan. 12, 2011.
The first portion captured Sgt. Russell speaking calmly to his dispatcher as he tailed the stolen snowplow as it slowly made its way through the streets, before speeding up.
“He’s just doing about five kilometres [per hour]” he’s heard saying at one point.
Co-op Cabs driver Tamrat Beyene told the trial he was driving north on Avenue Road at around 5:45 a.m., a sleeping passenger in the rear, when he saw the snowplow, also northbound, turn left on a red light at Davenport Road. It then executed a U-turn and headed south in the northbound lanes, crossing his path and striking his cab on its right-hand side.
Mr. Beyene turned and followed the snowplow, which did its U-turn near Bloor Street and came back north.
It slowed and the driver opened the door to yell at him: “What the fuck you want? Why are you following me? I don’t care,” Mr. Beyene recounted Mr. Kachkar yelling at him.
Echoing what others have said, Mr. Beyene testified that Mr. Kachkar appeared intoxicated. “I was thinking he was maybe drunk on the job.”
Also hit, just moments before, was the car of Beck Taxi driver Tesfaye Teferi, who was waiting at a taxi stand when he was struck from behind, with a glancing blow that damaged both doors on the driver’s side.
He too saw the snowplow do the U-turn at Davenport and then head back south, its trajectory when Sgt. Russell tried to force it to stop.
As it did so, it hit Mr. Teferi’s cab a second time, and in all it passed him five times, though never at high speed, he told defence counsel Bob Richardson.
“The whole time it was driving, it was I’d say [doing] 40 to 45 [kilometres an hour].”
The jury also heard evidence from a doctor who worked at Mount Sinai Hospital and saw the snowplow that morning as he walked down Avenue Road. As it passed him, Dr. Neel Datta recounted, Mr. Kachkar leaned out and yelled at him, “I’m going to get you.”
Dr. Datta, whose testimony was read out to the jury as an agreed statement of fact, fled in alarm and encountered Sgt. Russell as the officer headed toward the luxury car dealership, a Maserati/Ferrari outlet.
He told Sgt. Russell officer of Mr. Kachkar’s outburst.
Now 46, Mr. Kachkar is charged with first-degree murder and dangerous driving in the death of Sgt. Russell, a police officer for 10 years with long experience in youth gangs, who had been promoted to sergeant just three months before he was killed.
At the outset of the trial Monday, Justice Ian MacDonnell told the jury there is no dispute that around 5 a.m. on Jan. 12, Mr. Kachkar walked away from the Queen Street homeless shelter where he was staying after arriving from St. Catharines by bus the night before and stole the snowplow. At issue is Mr. Kachkar’s mental state at the time, the judge said, and whether he intended to kill Sgt. Russell.
In her opening remarks, Crown attorney Christine McGoey insisted that he did.
The truck had been left idling outside a Tim Hortons on Parliament Street while its two operators were inside getting coffee.
Prosecution and defence agree that Mr. Kachkar, barefoot and coatless, then embarked on a crosstown rampage that lasted nearly two hours.
It ended at 7:11 a.m. when Emergency Task Force officers pursuing the stolen truck finally boxed it in on Keele Street. Mr. Kachkar was shot twice in the takedown.
On Monday, other prosecution witnesses who saw and heard him that morning testified to his bizarre behaviour behind the wheel. He was heard yelling about 9/11, the Taliban, Chinese technology and about a microchip inside his body.
The jury also heard more evidence Tuesday morning from building concierge Michael Hau, who encountered Mr. Kachkar after the snowplow crashed into the car dealership.
He too was yelled at by the driver, he told the jury.
“He rolled down the window and started screaming at me: “Do you want to take a ride with me?”
The trial resumes Wednesday.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Sgt. Russell’s father watched from the front row. It was his grandfather. This version has been corrected.
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