The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. says an RCMP officer acted appropriately when trying to stop a pickup truck that was involved in a double-fatal crash near Nanaimo shortly after the attempted traffic stop.
The traffic stop was attempted just after 12:40 a.m. on Jan. 14, 2019, according to the IIO.
The pickup truck driver and an SUV driver died later in a head-on crash on the Trans-Canada Highway south of Nanaimo, between Cedar Road and Duke Point. They were not identified by police but family identified the driver of the SUV as 54-year-old Cliff Bishop and the driver of the pickup truck as 31-year-old Kurtis Timothy.
In a report released Tuesday, Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of B.C. said the pickup truck reached a speed up to 179 km/h and the driver was driving at full throttle, based on data from the recorder in the truck before the crash. The IIO also said the pickup truck driver narrowly missed a car also driving on the highway.
During the course of its investigation into the RCMP officer’s action before the fatal crash, IIO investigators interviewed one witness officer and six civilian witnesses. They also reviewed police reports, computer-aided dispatch records and police communications transcripts, mobile data terminal (MDT) GPS time, position and speed data from the police vehicle, Data from the Event Data Recorder (EDR) in the pickup truck, closed circuit television (CCTV) video from several relevant locations, forensic scene examination and photographs, vehicle mechanical inspections and Environmental data for the relevant time period.
The officer who tried to stop the pickup truck declined to be interviewed or provide any written notes or reports.
Pursuant to the memorandum of understanding between the IIO and B.C. police agencies, and consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a subject officer in an IIO investigation is not required to submit to an interview or provide investigators with his or her notes or reports about the incident.
According to the report, the RCMP member had tried to stop the pickup driver in the early-morning hours of Jan. 14 but it failed to stop and sped away on the wrong side of the Island Highway. The officer then turned off the police vehicle’s emergency lights and maintained a moderate speed.
“She followed the pick-up, a significant and increasing distance behind it, on the correct side of the highway, and a short time later came upon a collision in which the pick-up had collided head-on with another vehicle.”
According to the report, the officer had tried to pull over the pickup truck after it “aroused her suspicions” in a lightly-populated residential area of Nanaimo. She followed it as it drove toward the Island Highway, about two kilometres away. A little over a kilometre from the highway, she activated her emergency lights.
The IIO said the large GMC Sierra pickup truck increased speed and drove away toward the highway. Video from a commercial property beside the road about 450 metres from the highway shows the pickup truck passing by with the police vehicle four seconds behind, with the emergency lights flashing.
Shortly afterwards, the officer saw the truck reach the highway and turn south. “She switched off her emergency lights and radioed that the pickup was ‘trying to take off’ and that she was going to ‘let him go,'” the report said.
The IIO said in the report the pickup truck had turned onto the divided highway, which has multiple lanes separated by a concrete barrier. The IIO also said at that point, the driver was speeding southwards in the northbound lanes. It was dark and there was a moderate mist, reducing visibility. The RCMP officer also turned south but in the southbound lanes and with her emergency lights deactivated.
According to data from the police vehicle’s MDT, the officer’s speed never exceeded the posted speed limit of 90 km/h. The IIO said the pickup truck pulled away from the officer to where she could just see his tail lights and she lost sight of him as he sped up a long curve in the direction of an interchange where Highway 19 turns off toward Duke Point. The officer told dispatch and other police units about the situation.
The IIO report said the pickup truck driver narrowly missed a head-on collision with a northbound vehicle then drove head-on into the SUV seconds later. Both vehicles were severely damaged in the vehicle and the pickup truck burst into flames. Bishop and Timothy were pronounced dead at the scene.
The IIO said in the report the officer’s attempt to stop the pickup truck driver using emergency lights lasted only about 15 seconds and she did not pursue him by matching his speed. While seeing a police vehicle behind him, and its emergency lights, may have triggered the pickup truck driver’s flight, the IIO said in the report the officer “cannot be blamed for that if the attempted stop was authorized by law.”
Since the officer did not give her account to investigators, the IIO can’t provide any detail about her specific justification for the stop but the IIO said that her statutory authority to act as she did is so broad it would not be reasonable to challenge it without any evidence of improper motivation. The officer also had strict limits on the circumstances in which police may engage or continue a pursuit. The IIO said the circumstances on Jan. 14 did not meet the regulatory threshold and the officer was correct in not pursuing him.
The IIO said at the time of the collision, the officer was more than a kilometre from the scene.
“While there was sufficient connection between the actions of the SO (subject officer) on the night in question and the tragic loss of life that ensued to give the IIO jurisdiction to investigate, it cannot be said that any improper or illegal act on her part was the cause of that tragedy,” IIO Chief Civilian Director Ronald MacDonald wrote.
MacDonald concluded that there is not sufficient evidence that the officer may have committed an office that would support referring the matter to Crown counsel for consideration of charges.