An 11-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service is dead after being struck by a snowplow Wednesday morning during a dramatic police chase.
Speaking to reporters at St. Michael’s Hospital, Chief Bill Blair said the fallen officer is Sergeant Ryan Russell, 35, who worked out of 52 Division.
“This is a very tragic day for the city of Toronto and the Toronto Police Service,” Chief Blair said. “He was a fine police officer and a great servant to the people of Toronto. He was out doing his job in the early morning hours … He put his life on the line and tragically has lost his life doing his job.
“This is the worst of days for the Toronto Police Service.”
Mayor Rob Ford also extended his condolences to Sgt. Russell’s family in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
The Mayor looked visibly shaken as he delivered the statement, in the Mayor’s Protocol Loungel
“This is a very, very sad day for all of us. On behalf of all the members of city council, every resident of Toronto, I want to extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Sergeant Ryan Russell and his colleagues at 52 Division and throughout the Toronto Police Service. Sgt. Russell, an 11-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service, died this morning while on duty acting to protect the people of this great city. His bravery and service to the city of Toronto will never be forgotten. As I’ve always said, Toronto has the best police service in the world. Sgt. Russell is a shining example of the men and women of our police service who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. They, along with fire and emergency medical workers, do their jobs honourably every day and earn the respect and appreciation from all us. Again, to the family and colleagues of Sgt. Russell, our thoughts and our prayers are with you.”
Sgt. Russell, who previously served on the Toronto Guns and Gangs Task Force and who came from a policing family, was married and had a young son, said the Chief. Sgt. Russell is the first Toronto Police officer to be killed in the line of duty since 2002.
The chase that resulted in Sgt. Russell’s death began around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday after police received a call about a stolen snowplow. The plow was stolen while it was parked near Parliament and Dundas Streets, prompting a pursuit through the downtown core that ended shortly after 7 a.m. near the intersection of Keele and Annette Streets.
But it was at the intersection of Avenue and Davenport Roads that Sgt. Russell was struck by the plow while attempting to stop it. According to reports, the officer fired as many as three times at the plow before being struck.
Photographs taken at the scene show paramedics performing CPR on the injured officer.
EMS Deputy Commander Dave Viljakainen said the officer had no vital signs when paramedics arrived. Another officer was treated for a minor hand injury.
Police continued to follow the plow, eventually taking the driver down near Annette and Keele, where they fired on the suspect, wounding him. The suspect was taken by ambulance to St. Michael’s Hospital.
Julian Hamilton, 17, who lives at Keele and Humberside and whose bedroom overlooks Keele, said he heard two or three shots at around 7:40 a.m.
“I thought it was just my neighbours playing [videogame] Call of Duty really loud and then after I woke up I saw the cops’ SUVs outside my house,” Mr. Hamilton said. “I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m dreaming,’ until my mom called me and was like, ‘This ain’t no game, this actually happened’.”
Chief Blair said the suspect is now in police custody.
Police were aided in their pursuit by a GPS unit installed in the plow, which is owned by Tolias Landscaping and Plowing.
Owner Peter Tolias said crews had stopped to shovel some walkways in Regent Park near the intersection of Parliament and Dundas Streets around 4:15 a.m., when a man wearing no shoes ran towards an idling snowplow, jumped in the cab, and drove off.
“Who’s going to steal a beat-up snow truck? Apparently somebody wanted to,” Mr. Tolias said.
As soon as he received a report about the stolen plow, which was a heavy duty Chevy pickup carrying a full load of salt in a dump box mounted on its rear, Mr. Tolias used a GPS mounted on the truck to track its movements.
“He was all over the place. I was chasing with police for about an hour because I didn’t want anyone to get injured. When I found him, nobody was with him and I almost side-swiped him,” he said. “I just wanted to put an end to it.”
Outside St. Michael’s Hospital, Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said the death of an officer is the force’s “worst nightmare.”
“People talk about police officers and what we do in an abstract term crunched down to business and numbers. Well this is what we do,” said Mr. McCormack, who knew Sgt. Russell personally.
“We go out everyday and we put it on the line. This is what can happen and we all know it. It’s the ultimate sacrifice that he has made and we’re all very proud of him and this is our worst nightmare.”
Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, also offered his condolences to Sgt. Russell’s family.
“It’s a grief that we share and I believe it’s a grief the city should share,” he said. “We have been fortunate that this kind of tragedy does not happen too often … but when it happens, it affects all of us. It reminds us of the work that our officers do day in and day out.”
Mayor Rob Ford issued a statement shortly after police confirmed Sgt. Russell’s death, saying the officer’s “bravery and service to the city” would not be forgotten.
Flags at city hall and other city facilities are to be lowered to half-mast today.
Premier Dalton McGuinty also released a statement expressing his “heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell.”
“All Ontarians are shocked by this tragedy, and we stand united in supporting Sergeant Russell’s family, including his wife and young child,” said Mr. McGuinty.
“Sergeant Russell’s death is a grim reminder that we should never take the dangers of policing for granted. Those who serve never know when they may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. Coming from a police family, Sergeant Russell knew the risks involved when he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father.”
The province’s Special Investigations Unit has taken over the investigation, and has dispatched 12 regular and four forensic investigators to the scene.
Courtesy: National Post