A high speed police chase by members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) ended in the death of Sheila Walsh (65), who was not the target of the chase. The driver of the pursued vehicle, a pickup truck, crashed into the vehicle being driven by Walsh with the truck bursting into flames. Walsh was declared dead at the scene. After the crash police told neighbors to evacuate their homes because of gasoline spilling out at the scene.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which examines harm to civilians by police in Ontario, is investigating the high-speed pursuit and how OPP officers responded to the situation. According to the SIU, police claim that at about 3:20 PM on September 25, 2017, the OPP responded to a call about a reportedly stolen vehicle in Eganville, around 130 kilometers west of Ottawa. The 20-year-old driver of the vehicle in question headed toward Arnprior on Highway 60, then to Highway 17, where the OPP began their pursuit. The truck collided with Welsh’s car a bit after 4 PM as she was pulling from her driveway on Daniel Street.
The SIU has assigned five investigators, two forensic investigators, and one collision reconstructionist to investigate the crash and the circumstances leading to it. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed. It is known that the risky and careless police decision to pursue enforcement of property rights has led to the death of a civilian.
One witness put it in clearly sensible term, In the words of Eric Bayley, a Bell Canada worker who observed the chase and crash while working:
“The chase should never have happened. If the guy robbed a bank they would have got him sooner or later. It was a stolen vehicle. Big freakin’ deal. Now a poor grandmother, mother, sister is dead. There’s no … way in hell those cops should have been chasing them down that … road.” (quoted in Crawford and Gillis 2017)
“There had to have been eight cop cars and three Suburbans wide open going down Daniel Street. It could have been a lot worse. I was talking to my buddy on the phone and I was like, ‘Holy s—t. This is not going to go well.’ He said, ‘What’s going on?’ and I said, ‘There’s a high-speed chase. There’s cruiser after cruiser after cruiser.’” (quoted in Crawford and Gillis 2017)
Indeed, a flag worker on construction site the chase plowed through had to leap to safety.
Ontario’s Police Services Act sets out the rules governing police pursuits. According to the Act, police can pursue or continue pursuit “if the police officer has reason to believe that a criminal offence has been committed or is about to be committed; or for the purposes of motor vehicle identification or the identification of an individual in the vehicle.” The Act also further states police must continually weigh whether “the immediate need to apprehend an individual in the fleeing motor vehicle or the need to identify the fleeing motor vehicle or an individual in the fleeing motor vehicle outweighs the risk to public safety that may result from the pursuit.” Dispatch must be notified of the pursuit and the (Crawford and Gillis 2017).
Crawford, Blair and Megan Gillis. 2017. “Eganville Man Faces Charges After Woman Killed in Crash During Police Chase.” Ottawa Citizen September 27. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/witness-describes-devastating-and-deadly-arnprior-crash