Canada
Friend recalls changes in accused Toronto cop killer

Credits: Pam Davies/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

MICHELE MANDEL | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO - This was not the Richard Kachkar he knew.

When Harry Pessoa met up in Toronto in January 2011 with his long-time pal from St. Catharines, the unusually thin and unkempt Kachkar hugged him tight and then pulled him into a washroom to confide that cameras were watching him everywhere.

Pessoa recalled being worried about his good friend. He had good reason to be.

Just days later, the barefoot former truck driver would slip out of a Toronto homeless shelter and take a stolen snowplow on a horrific rampage that would kill Sgt. Ryan Russell.

As he took his place in the witness box, the soft-spoken Pessoa kept looking at the friend he'd known since he moved here from Vancouver in 1998, but Kachkar would not meet his concerned gaze.

He wasn't his old pal anymore. He was an accused murderer who admits to driving the snowplow that killed Russell that snowy morning, but contends he wasn't criminally responsible because of a mental disorder.

Pessoa described a very different man than the one the court has come to know during his first-degree murder trial: back in 1998, Kachkar had a job, a nice home in North York and computers for both his beloved son and daughter. The friends would go out to restaurants and enjoy food from Pessoa's native Jamaica. They'd talk about their kids and share pride in their accomplishments.

When the Kachkar family relocated to St. Catharines, Pessoa helped them move. When Kachkar's father died in Vancouver, he went west with his distraught friend to help settle his affairs. He was confused when Kachkar changed his mind and decided to leave his dad's furniture in storage rather than bringing it to Ontario. It was later auctioned off, he learned, because he hadn't paid the storage fees.

Kachkar, though, had come into money: a $100,000 inheritance that he used to buy a few investment properties in Buffalo as well as a storefront in St. Catharines. But despite his best plans, he was struggling and out of work in 2008 and it was Pessoa who got him a job as a driver with his Krispy Kreme employer in Mississauga.

So yes, they were close.

But in cross-examination, Pessoa admitted he never knew his friend had any mental health problems. He was aware of marital difficulties because Kachkar confided that his wife's family was pressuring him to leave her. "He said, 'How can I leave my kids like that?'"

In fact, there were marital problems dating to 2006 when two social workers were involved with the Kachkar family because of reports of domestic violence and the mental instability of both parents.

Intake worker Stacey Cunningham from Family and Children's Services of Niagara testified that Kachkar rambled incoherently during their meeting and appeared to be conversing with himself.

"I had a lot of difficulty understanding him," she said.

"I suggested Mr. Kachkar should see a doctor and I was hoping he would have a mental health assessment."

His defence team is asking the jury to believe there may be mental illness in his genes.

Court heard Kachkar was put up for adoption after his 1966 birth in Edmonton and his biological father was a 20-year-old university drop-out later hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for eight days in 1980. When tracked down by police last October, his dad was living in a rooming house and described by his welfare worker as delusional.

Whether it's in his biological make-up or not, it was clear to Pessoa that Kachkar was unravelling. When he learned Kachkar abruptly left a Toronto friend's apartment and no one knew where he'd gone, his concern grew.

Pessoa said his mom received a strange call from Kachkar: he was crying that he was hungry. She told him to go to a downtown shelter.

On the morning of Jan. 12, with the news filled with a bizarre snowplow hijacking, Pessoa went searching for his troubled friend. At the Good Shepherd shelter, the man at the desk blanched when asked about a Richard Kachkar.

"He paused for a minute," recalled Pessoa sadly. "And he said, 'I think he's in big trouble.'"

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