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News Release

SIU Closes Investigation into Vaughan Vehicle Death

Case Number: 11-OCD-002

Mississauga (18 February, 2011) --- The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has reviewed the facts around the January 7, 2011 vehicle death of 23-year-old Maria Christina Valvis Rocha following a brief police pursuit. Joseph Martino, the Acting Director of the SIU, has concluded there are no reasonable grounds to believe a York Regional Police (YRP) officer committed a criminal offence in this case.

The SIU assigned six investigators, two forensic investigators and a traffic reconstructionist to probe the circumstances of this incident. The incident scene was photographed, video recorded and forensically mapped. A canvass of the area for witnesses was conducted and the cruiser’s automated vehicle locator data was examined. Three witness officers were interviewed, as was the subject officer. Fourteen civilian witnesses, most of them eyewitnesses to the events in question, were also identified and interviewed by the SIU.

The investigation found that the following events took place on January 7:

  • At about 7:00 pm on January 7, the subject officer was operating his marked cruiser when he came upon a Toyota Echo while stopped on the Highway 7 westbound exit ramp at Bathurst Street. 

 

  • The Toyota vehicle, being operated by Ms. Rocha, caught the officer’s attention because its rear licence plate was not illuminated. The officer ran a check on the licence number through his cruiser’s mobile work station and learned that the licence plates were improperly registered. It was at this point that the officer decided to pull the vehicle over to investigate a potential Highway Traffic Act offence. 

 

  • As the lights turned green and the vehicles proceeded southbound onto Bathurst Street, the officer activated his emergency lights, pulled in behind Ms. Rocha and signalled his intention to stop her vehicle. 

 

  • At first, it appeared Ms. Rocha would pull over. She turned on the hazard lights or right turn signal, slowed her vehicle and manoeuvred into the right hand lane approaching the intersection of Highway 407. Instead of coming to a stop, however, the Toyota then accelerated southbound away from the cruiser.  

 

  • The officer turned on his siren and began to pursue. 

 

  • Ms. Rocha weaved in and out of traffic as she continued southbound, approaching and exceeding highway speeds at times.  

 

  • At the intersection of Atkinson Avenue, Ms. Rocha used the right hand turn lane to manoeuvre around traffic and drive straight through what was either an amber or red light.  

 

  • The officer attempted to keep up, himself reaching significant speeds and managing at one point to pull alongside the driver’s side of the Toyota before being forced back by traffic in front of his vehicle. 

 

  • After crossing the Atkinson Avenue intersection, with Ms. Rocha’s vehicle continuing to accelerate and gaining significant distance on him, the officer turned off his emergency equipment and terminated the pursuit in the interest of public safety.  

 

  • Shortly thereafter, Ms. Rocha’s vehicle veered into the right-most lane to avoid traffic stopped in front of her for a red light at Centre Street before mounting the west curb and colliding with a utility pole. 

 

  • The officer arrived at the scene and exited his cruiser. He smashed the passenger side window of the Toyota, opened the door and crawled inside in an effort to render assistance. Paramedics and firefighters also responded. 

 

  • Ms Rocha died at the scene as the result of significant head trauma inflicted by the collision.

 

Acting Director Martino concluded, "I am satisfied that the officer was acting in the lawful course of his duties when he attempted to pull Ms. Rocha over to investigate a potential Highway Traffic Act offence, and that he was justified in commencing a pursuit when Ms. Rocha’s vehicle failed to stop. In my view, the care exercised by the subject officer in the conduct of the pursuit also fell within the limits prescribed by the criminal law. For reasons unknown, the evidence suggests that Ms. Rocha was intent on fleeing from the police. She drove at high speeds, ignored the rules of the road and ultimately lost control of the vehicle striking the utility pole at a speed estimated to be about 70 km/h. The roads were in good repair, the weather was clear and traffic by most accounts was moderate. While it was dark, there was artificial lighting in the area. The officer used his emergency equipment throughout a brief pursuit (under two minutes) over a relatively short distance (about two kilometres), notified his communications centre that he was engaged in one and made what appears to have been a prudent decision to terminate the pursuit just before the collision which, tragically, took Ms. Rocha’s life. In the circumstances, I am satisfied there are no grounds to reasonably believe that the officer’s conduct constituted the sort of marked departure from a reasonable level of care or dangerous driving that would attract criminal sanction."

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. 

Jasbir Dhillon, jasbir.dhillon@ontario.ca
SIU Communications/Service des communications, UES
Telephone/No de téléphone: 416-622-2342 or/ou 1-800-787-8529 extension 2342