Canada
Paramedic describes 'crazy' encounter with Kachkar

Christine Russell laying a wreath.

Credits: Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

MICHELE MANDEL | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO - "Crazy" is the vernacular. "Emotionally disturbed" is more politically correct.

Both seemed apt descriptions for the bizarre driver who was sticking his head out the door of a snowplow near the scene where Sgt. Ryan Russell had just been mowed down, raving about "the Taliban."

From her 13 years of experience as a paramedic in this city, Shannon Willis knew a nut bar when she saw one. And from her point of view, Richard Kachkar certainly fit the bill that morning.

But that may not be a very popular opinion.

The homeless man's mental state is central to his trial for first-degree murder and the Crown is arguing that Kachkar knew exactly what he was doing when he drove the stolen plow directly into the officer two years ago, leaving him for dead.

While it's admitted that Kachkar, 46, was driving the plow during his wild rampage through the city, he's pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and dangerous driving. The jury's been told that at issue will be his intent and "state of mind" at the time Russell was killed.

For this EMS paramedic at least, his state of mind was obvious.

It was shortly after 6:09 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2011, -9C and snowing, and she was driving her ambulance -- lights on but no siren -- along Davenport Rd. towards Avenue Rd. where shots had been fired and an officer hit by a snowplow. As she sped to the scene she came upon a plow with the driver hanging over the top of his open door, screaming at her.

She opened her window.

"He yelled something about shots fired, the Taliban and 'they can all go f--k themselves,'" the uniformed paramedic recalled Thursday in a downtown courtroom.

He seemed "hyped up" with adrenaline and was yelling very, very loudly, Willis said. "I felt scared. How did he know that shots were fired?" Suspecting that he may have been involved in the deadly altercation with Russell, she quickly rolled up her window and drove on.

Her suspicions were correct. Just minutes before, Kachkar had driven his stolen GMC truck into Russell's cruiser, smashing the headlight on the driver's side, buckling the hood and fender and crushing the door. Sgt. Jeff Bassingthwaite, a collision reconstructionist, testified the impact threw the car back over two metres.

Russell, who was standing outside his car, fired three shots from his service revolver. One hit the snowplow's hood while the others went wide. And still the plow kept coming, witnesses said, knocking the officer off his feet and then slamming into his head before it drove away.

The paramedic found the dying sergeant in the middle of Avenue Rd., being cradled by a female officer we now know was Sgt. Sarah Andrews, while the snow all around them turned a crimson red.

"Is he alive?" Willis remembers asking.

"She said, 'I don't know. I think so. I feel some warm breath.'"

Fighting to control her emotions, Willis described their frenzied efforts to save him as they raced to St. Michael's Hospital. But Russell never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 6:40 a.m.

The 11-year veteran left behind a wife and a two-year-old child.

Sgt. Tim Irish had the grim task of collecting his blood-stained clothes -- his TPS shirt, with the new sergeant epaulettes, and his pants, ripped from where he'd been hit and thrown on to the road.

As soon as she left Russell's side, Willis went to find a police officer in the hospital to tell them about her strange encounter with a blond snowplow driver who knew too much.

She didn't think he was drunk or high on drugs. She would later tell detectives that her impression that he was EDP -- or an emotionally disturbed person. "He's crazy," she told police at the time.

It's an assessment she maintains to this day. "I still believe he's emotionally disturbed," she told defence lawyer Bob Richardson.

In re-examination by prosecutor Jessica Smith Joy, the paramedic admitted she had no psychiatric training and was making a judgment based on an interaction only seconds long.

But sometimes that's all it takes.

The trial continues Monday.


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