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News Release

SIU Concludes Investigation into Sturgeon Falls Vehicle Deaths

Case Number: 09-PVD-301

Mississauga (17 March, 2010) --- The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has reviewed the facts around the December 2009 deaths of 20-year-old Angele Penasse of Sturgeon Falls and 23-year-old Ghislain Gareau of Verner. Ian Scott, the Director of the SIU, has concluded there are no reasonable grounds to believe an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer committed a criminal offence in this case.

The SIU assigned five investigators and three forensic investigators to probe the circumstances of this incident. The investigation found that the following events took place on the evening of December 13:
* On this date, the subject officer (SO) and another officer were operating a RIDE program on Hwy 17, just east of Hwy 11.
* The SO stopped a vehicle which contained driver Mr. Gareau and a passenger. The SO told his partner that he was placing both men under arrest for possession of marijuana, and asked him to take control of Mr. Gareau while the SO dealt with the passenger. However, Mr. Gareau jumped into his vehicle and sped away. The SO's partner attempted to reach into the vehicle but accidentally fell to the ground, causing his communication earpiece to become dislodged.
* The SO began the pursuit and reported to the OPP Communications Centre that Mr. Gareau was in possession of a controlled substance, and that during the arrest attempt, Mr. Gareau had struck an officer as he left the scene. Due to the fact that the other officer's earpiece had become dislodged, he did not hear this and wasn't able to correct the misinformation.
* The West Nipissing Police Service (WNPS) was contacted to arrange for deployment of a spike belt in an attempt to stop the pursued vehicle. The Communications Centre also asked the WNPS dispatcher to stop the eastbound traffic outside Sturgeon Falls and was told that they had two officers available. An officer with Anishinabek Police Services was also asked to go to Sturgeon Falls to block the eastbound traffic on Hwy 17.
* Meanwhile, the pursuit continued westbound on Hwy 17, onto Algonquin Ave., then McKeown Ave., and then Gormanville Rd. before continuing westbound on Hwy 17. The SO had his emergency equipment activated throughout the pursuit and continued to provide the Communications Centre with updates on the road conditions and speed of the pursued vehicle. The SO reported to the Communications Centre that Hwy 17 was clear of traffic, and that Mr. Gareau was reaching speeds of up to 160 km/hr. He expressed concern about the speed and said it would be a good idea to block off the road from Sturgeon Falls. The Communications Centre responded that it was attempting to get the highway blocked off. Unfortunately, the eastbound traffic was not blocked off in time.
* An officer with the WNPS deployed a spike belt on Hwy 17 near Golf Course Rd. Mr. Gareau drove over the spike belt, and continued to travel westbound. Approximately 500 meters later, Mr. Gareau crossed the centre line of Hwy 17 and collided head-on with the eastbound vehicle driven by Ms. Penasse. Tragically, both Mr Gareau and Ms Penasse died instantly as a result of this collision.

Director Scott said, "From the perspective of the subject officer, he had the lawful authority to pursue the fleeing motor vehicle pursuant to ss. 3(1) of the 'Suspect Apprehension Pursuits' regulation of the Police Services Act because he had reason to believe that Mr. Gareau had committed the offence of possession of marijuana and one related to attempting to strike a police officer with his car. While the possession of marijuana offence may not be one that required an immediate need to apprehend the suspect, I am of the view that the subject officer had an honest but ultimately mistaken belief that the driver had attempted to strike his partner. Thus, the officer could reasonably conclude that the need to apprehend Mr. Gareau outweighed the risk to public safety that may have resulted from entering the pursuit. This balancing of the risk to the public versus the immediate need to apprehend the suspect is mandated by ss. 3(3) of the same regulation.

"During the pursuit, the subject officer activated his emergency equipment and stayed in contact with the Communications Centre. He could reasonably conclude that the roadway where the spike belt was going to be used would be blocked from eastbound traffic, and he communicated that the traffic was light with no pedestrians on the roadway. In the circumstances, he did all he could to ensure that risk to public safety would be minimized during the pursuit. I am satisfied, having regard to the 'Suspect Apprehension Pursuits' regulations and internal orders relating to OPP stops and pursuits, that the subject officer exercised a level of care that fell well within the limits prescribed by the criminal law."

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. 

Monica Hudon, monica.hudon@ontario.ca
SIU Communications/Service des communications, UES
Telephone/No de téléphone: 416-622-2342 or/ou 1-800-787-8529 extension 2342