As she sped toward Avenue Road, where Toronto police Sergeant Ryan Russell had been mown down minutes earlier, paramedic Shannon Willis encountered a stationary snowplow, she told the Richard Kachkar murder trial Thursday morning.
She knew from the call she’d received that someone, possibly a police officer, had been seriously injured and that shots had been fired, she said. And the strange behaviour of the snowplow driver as he leaned up and out of the cab led her to suspect he was connected to the incident, she testified.
“He yelled something about shots fired, the Taliban and they can all go fuck themselves,” Ms. Willis told the jury.
“He was very hyped up – very, very loud...I felt scared. How did he know shots had been fired?”
And with many years of experience in responding to emergencies, she did not think the man was high on drugs or alcohol, she told the trial. Nor did the man appear angry.
Rather, “I thought he was emotionally disturbed,” she testified, and in a report filed later she used the word “crazy.”
“Crazy in what way?” Mr. Kachkar’s lawyer Bob Richardson asked Ms. Willis in cross-examination.
“Emotionally disturbed,” she repeated. “I didn’t think he was under the influence of anything.”
Her answers went to the heart of the case Mr. Richardson is striving to make in defending his client.
Mr. Kachkar, 46 has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and dangerous driving in the January, 2011 death of Sgt. Russell.
Two additional charges of attempted murder were dropped before his Superior Court trial in front of Justice Ian MacDonnell began this week.
The proceedings are moving along briskly, in large part because Mr. Richardson has eschewed the common defence tactic of attacking the credibility of prosecution witnesses during cross-examination.
Instead, he and co-counsel Indira Stewart have been focusing on their client’s erratic behaviour in the events surrounding Sgt. Russell’s death.
The core facts are not in dispute.
On a cold snowy morning, barefoot and coatless, Mr. Kachkar walked away from the Queen Street shelter he had checked into the night before and stole the snowplow while it sat idling outside a Tim Hortons.
Over the next two hours, he went on a wild, one-man rampage, damaging numerous parked cars, smashing into an auto dealership on Avenue Road and running down Sgt. Russell, 35 when the officer tried to intervene.
The key question for the six-woman, six-man jury will be whether Mr. Kachkar was mentally capable of forming the intent to commit those crimes.
The prosecution thesis is that he was. Mr. Richardson hopes to persuade the jurors he was not.
Ms. Willis also described reaching the fallen Sgt. Russell as he lay in the snow, cradled by another police officer who had just arrived.
“I said, ‘Is he alive?’” she recounted.
“I don’t know, “ the officer replied. “I think so. I felt some warm breath.”
Ms. Willis and her colleagues placed the sergeant in the ambulance and did what they could to revive him but to no avail. He was pronounced dead soon after reaching St. Michael’s Hospital.
In other evidence, forensics specialist Sergeant Tim Irish told the trial of the difficulty he had in processing the crime scene because of the thick snow on the ground that morning.
Using a metal detector and a rake, he was nonetheless able to find shell casings from the three rounds Sgt. Russell had fired from his service pistol as the snowplow bore down on him.
One of those bullets had pierced an upstairs window in a nearby apartment building
Later, Sgt. Irish also collected Sgt. Russell's pistol and Taser gun, which had not been fired, from where they lay in the snow.
Photos of Sgt. Russell's cruiser - struck by the snowplow a split second before the plow hit Sgt. Russell - were shown to the jury, showing damage to the headlight on the driver's side and to the front left fender. A tire had also been flattened.
Sgt. Irish told the trial that from there he was redirected to the hospital, where he learned from a homicide squad colleague that Sgt. Russell had died.
He photographed the slain officer, noting his severe head injuries.
Seated in the prisoner's box, clad in the same clothes he has worn all week - dark jacket, white shirt, beige pants - Mr. Kachkar displayed no reaction to any of the testimony being aired.
His trial resumes Monday.