The last moments of Toronto police Sergeant Ryan Russell went under a microscope at the Richard Kachkar murder trial Wednesday afternoon, as witnesses described to an emotion-laden court how the officer was struck and fatally injured by a stolen snowplow on downtown Avenue Road.
“There was blood everywhere,” the jury was told by Sergeant Sarah Andrews, who was a constable at the time and was the first police officer to attend the dying man as he bled out from a wound to his right temple.
“I put my hand under his head and I could feel a hole in the back of his head,” she testified, choking back tears.
“I took his left hand, I just kept talking to him and telling him he had to fight, that help was coming.”
But she could detect neither a heartbeat nor a pulse, she said, as Sgt. Russell’s widow, Christine, and a group of supporters in the front rows of the big courtroom wept.
Tow truck driver Herculano Pereira told of seeing Sgt. Russell being hit by the marauding snowplow after the officer got out of his car, stepped backward and fired his sidearm three times as the vehicle – a heavy-duty pickup truck with a mechanized shovel mounted on the front – bore down on him.
It was the blade of the plow that hit him, the jury heard, after first striking the officer’s car a glancing blow on the front driver’s side.
It was “all one continuous motion,” Mr. Pereira told the court.
“He got hit in the legs first. He’s falling backwards and the truck keeps coming steady, and it hits him in the head...his whole body spun.”
On either side of the dying officer, lying in the snow, were his handgun and a Taser weapon, Mr. Pereira recounted.
Sgt. Russell was pronounced dead at 6:40 a.m., roughly 45 minutes after he was hit and rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital.
As the ghastly evidence was aired, Mr. Kachkar continued to stare at the floor, expressionless, as he has done during most of the past three days.
In all, six prosecution witnesses described the chaos unfold that cold snowy morning, and the direction of the questioning by the Crown was clear: At no time, it was agreed, did Mr. Kachkar seem to swerve, brake or slow down after he performed a U-turn on Avenue Road, north of Davenport, and drove toward Sgt. Russell, who stood directly in his path.
Vance Cooper, a lawyer and mediator, saw Sgt. Russell on the ground, shortly before Constable Andrews arrived.
“He’s laying in the northbound lanes with his head to the south and his feet to the north...I could see a pool of blood forming around his head,” he said.
Mr. Cooper didn’t witness the snowplow strike Sgt. Russell and his cruiser because his view was blocked, he told the jury.
“I was just holding my breath and hoping the officer could get out of the way.”
Next in the witness box was Union Station railyard worker Maurice Lopes, who had been heading to work.
As he watched the stolen snowplow execute its U-turn and head south on Avenue Road toward Sgt. Russell’s stationary cruiser, Mr. Lopes initially thought the two vehicles were working in tandem.
“It was only when I heard three gunshots that it dawns on me that something’s amiss.”
Mr. Cooper and Mr. Lopes both spoke of struggling to comprehend what was taking place.
“I was trying to process something that’s out of this world,” Mr. Cooper testified.
The snowplow was being driven by Mr. Kachkar, now 46.
He is charged with first-degree murder and dangerous driving in the death of Sgt. Russell, a police officer for 10 years who had been promoted to sergeant just three months before he was killed.
Two other prosecution witnesses also described watching the snowplow as it drove up down Avenue Road that morning.
One was Beck cab driver Sukhit Singh, whose taxi was one of at least four struck by the snowplow during Mr. Kachkar’s wild drive.
He, too, heard the gunshots, and he too saw Sgt. Russell lying on the ground, a few minutes before police and paramedics arrived.
At first he thought the victim was a pedestrian, he said. Then he saw Sgt. Russell’s police badge.
“There was blood on the body, on the chest,” he testified.
Electrician Hamid Azarbani described to the jury how the snowplow struck the officer and dragged him a short distance before speeding away.
“He was struggling on the gound,” he told the trial. “His feet were shaking, then all of a sudden it stopped.”
There is no dispute as to what happened that day.
Prosecution and defence agree that early on the morning of Jan. 12, 2011, Mr. Kachkar stole the snowplow from outside a Parliament Street coffee shop, where it had been left with its engine running.
Both sides also concur that over the next two hours, Mr. Kachkar wildly piloted the truck through Toronto’s snowy downtown, ramming several cars, smashing the front window of a luxury car dealership and mowing down Sgt. Russell when the officer tried to stop him. The speed of the snowplow has been estimated at anywhere from 20 to 40 kilometres an hour.
The rampage 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, and he was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital where he was charged with murder.
At issue in the trial are not the events but rather Mr. Kachkar’s state of mind at the time, and whether he had formed the requisite intent for his actions to be deemed criminal.
The Crown has stated clearly that he did.
Defence counsel Bob Richardson is expected to argue he did not.
The jury, however, is sure to pay close attention to a crucial video clip, played to them on Tuesday.
A video camera on the dashboard of Sgt. Russell’s cruiser shows Mr. Kachkar’s stolen snowplow driving directly at him.
The jury has heard numerous witnesses describe the defendant’s erratic words and actions as he criss-crossed his way through dozens of streets that morning.
The trial resumes Thursday.
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