SIU Concludes Investigation into the Death of a Welland Man in an Incident Involving the Niagara Regional Police Service
Case Number: 08-OVI-120
"In my view, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the subject officer involved in this incident committed a criminal offence," concluded then SIU Director James Cornish. "The collision resulting in the death of 29-year-old James Lacombe was the tragic result of his panicked and dangerous driving rather than due to any action on the part of the police."
On July 3, 2008 at approximately 4:30 p.m., a Niagara Regional Police officer was at the Good Night Motel on Main Street West in Port Colborne on an unrelated investigation when he spotted a pickup truck parked outside one of the rooms. The officer recognized the vehicle as being involved in previous traffic offences he had investigated. The officer also knew that the owner of the truck had been released on bail on a charge of domestic
assault, including a condition not to associate with the woman involved in the case. Once the officer learned that the woman was in the room, he attempted to arrest Mr. Lacombe for violating a condition of his bail. After a brief struggle with the officer, the man broke free and ran to his pickup truck.
In arriving at his decision, Mr. Cornish found: "The officer did not know if Mr. Lacombe was simply planning to escape or whether he had a weapon in his vehicle. The officer stated that he was afraid for his life and, therefore, drew his firearm." Mr. Cornish concluded: "I believe that the officer's fear was reasonable given that, shortly afterwards, Mr. Lacombe drove his vehicle towards the officer, who was able to step out of the vehicle's path. The officer did not discharge his weapon."
With regard to the pursuit initiated by the officer, Mr. Cornish said: "Shortly after fleeing the motel, Mr. Lacombe drove dangerously, disobeying a traffic light and driving at speeds up to 190 km/hr. It was reasonable for the officer to pursue him in order to ensure Mr. Lacombe's safety and the safety of others."
After being ordered to do so by their supervisor, the officer and fellow officers, who had been called to assist him, abandoned the pursuit. About 10 km. away, Mr. Lacombe's vehicle, still traveling at a high rate of speed, struck a tree on Highway 3 west of Zion Road in the hamlet of Winger. He died as the result of severe head injuries.
The SIU assigned five field investigators, three forensic investigators and an accident reconstructionist to this case. During the course of its investigation, the SIU interviewed eight police officers and 29 civilians, who either witnessed the sequence of events or were able to provide information necessary to conduct as thorough an investigation has possible. SIU investigators also examined police occurrence reports, computer-assisted dispatch and communications tapes, and the Niagara Regional Police Service's policies on suspect apprehension pursuits and use of force. External security cameras from a sandwich shop and food market further assisted the SIU investigation.
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must
- consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation
- depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid
- report the results of any investigations to the Attorney General.