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The Globe and Mail

Hearing begins for man accused of killing Toronto police sergeant with a stolen snowplow

The funeral service for Toronto Police Sgt. Ryan Russell, shown in an undated handout photo, took place Jan.18, 2011.

The Canadian Press

Ten months after a Toronto police sergeant was struck and killed by a stolen snowplow during a wild, early-morning police pursuit on snowy midtown streets, the preliminary inquiry began Monday morning for the 45-year-old man accused of murdering him.

Richard Kachkar, formerly of St. Catharines, faces one count of first-degree murder in the death of Sgt. Ryan Russell, together with two charges of attempted murder.

Clad in an orange jailhouse jumpsuit, he was brought into the small College Park courtroom in handcuffs.

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Mr. Kachkar did not speak as the proceedings opened, staring at the floor from the prisoner's box.

His lawyer, Bob Richardson, told presiding judge Mr. Justice Ford Clements his client wished to be tried by judge and jury in the event the matter goes to trial.

Mr. Richardson also requested the customary publication ban.

The snowplow Mr. Kachkar is alleged to have been piloting – a heavy-duty Chevrolet pickup truck with a hydraulic shovel mounted on the front – fatally struck Sgt. Russell when the officer tried to stop it as it careened up Avenue Road, shortly before 6 a.m. on Jan. 12.

It had been stolen near Cabbagetown 90 minutes earlier, when a barefoot man jumped in and drove it away from where it sat idling, and when Sgt. Russell tried to wave it down it had already smashed into several other vehicles.

From Avenue Road, the snowplow headed west and Mr. Kachkar was arrested about an hour later when it crashed to a halt on a residential lawn near Keele and Annette Streets.

Police swarmed the truck, and Mr. Kachkar was shot and wounded as he was arrested.

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As with all police-civilian shootings, the province's Special Investigations Unit was called in, and in April the unit concluded the officer who shot Mr. Kachkar was justified in doing so.

Sgt. Russell was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Michael's Hospital.

Under Canadian law, any murder charge involving the death of a police officer is automatically first-degree murder.

The two attempted murder charges against Mr. Kachkar stem from the snowplow allegedly crashing into two other vehicles - a taxi cab and a police car - on its rampage.

An unemployed drifter who had spent the night before the incident in a Queen Street hostel, Mr. Kachkar was believed to be distraught over a failed relationship, acquaintances said.

Sgt. Russell was the first Toronto police officer to die in the line of duty since 2002. More than 10,000 people, including 8,000 police officers from across North America, packed the city's Convention Centre for his Jan. 18 funeral.

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He was 35 when he died, leaving behind his wife, Christine, and their 2-year-old son.

He was attached to downtown 52 Division, where he supervised the unit's "A" platoon, and had been a police officer for 14 years.

Mr. Kachkar's preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, is expected to last about three weeks.

Sgt. Russell's widow was at the back of the small courtroom as the hearing got under way, while seated at the front were the dead officer's parents and his sister.

Mr. Kachkar appeared to have no relatives or supporters in court.

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