Monday, Sept. 13, 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of RCMP canine officer Chip while in the line of duty.
To honour the canine officer’s sacrifice, the Eastern Fraser Valley RCMP are hosting a memorial for him at the 3rd Ave. side of Memorial Park in Hope. It begins at 11 a.m. and all are welcome to attend.
But since 25 years is a long time, The Hope Standard wanted to provide a look back at what began the events of a fateful September day, what happened on that mountainside and to Chip, and what the outcome of it all was.
For Robert John Petrus, Sept.13, 1996 began when he skipped out on paying for his motel room. But it wasn’t until the 36-year-old committed a gas-and-dash offence before running a Coquihalla toll booth near Merritt in his ’84 white flat-deck truck around lunchtime that he became a blip on the local RCMP’s radar.
Staff Sergeant Don Miller and Corporal D. Hopp of the RCMP highway patrol say they first followed him by vehicle, but when he pulled over and took off into the bush, the pair trailed him by foot.
“We pursued him into the bush but soon pulled back to preserve the trail for the tracking dogs,” explained Staff Sergeant Ed Hill.
At around 2:00 p.m., off-duty Chilliwack Constable Doug Lewis, a dog-handler of seven years, receives a page while buying dog food in a country store; calling in, he learned a dog-handler was required near Hope to track a suspect who’d fled into the woods to evade arrest. Not missing a beat, the officer paid for his purchase and headed to the road-side scene.
Described as a 6’2″, 240-lb., mountain man, Petrus, when approached by the highway patrol officers, chose to bolt into heavily wooded area like a “gazelle,” recalled Miller.
By 2:30 p.m.,Lewis and his canine partner arrived on scene near Hope. Slipping the tracking harness over the two-and-a-half-year-old German Shepherd’s head and attaching the 20-foot lead, the two headed into the trees to search for Petrus’s trail.
Having been off-duty at the time, Lewis was out of uniform, and without his radio, handcuffs, gun, and other equipment, but all he needed to do was locate Petrus, the Emergency Response Team (ERT) would handle all the rough and tumble action.
With his nose to the ground, Chip followed Petrus’s trail, leading the two groups of officers straight up the mountainside in terrain tough enough that it made the going-up slow: twice Lewis outran the ERT in the dense bush and they had to yell for him to wait for them to catch up. Unfortunately for Lewis and Chip, he didn’t hear the ERT’s third request to wait.
Three kilometres into the chase, the area leveled out giving Chip and Lewis a better view of their surroundings. Suddenly, Chip stopped and raised his head, spotting something. Following the dog’s intense gaze, Lewis spotted Petrus hiding behind a tree.
Attack! Lewis commanded, as the dog immediately jumped into action, charging Petrus as he’d been trained his whole life to do.
What Lewis didn’t know, though, was Petrus was armed with a knife. He watched in horror – too far away to intervene – as Petrus plunged the blade into Chip’s neck. It had severed the dog’s jugular vein.
After having rushed to the aid of his canine partner, Lewis turned all attention on himself as Petrus focused his rage, and knife, on the plain-clothed officer.
Still in attack-mode, and fatally injured, Chip continued to try and bring down Petrus, and in doing so, inadvertently wrapped his leash around Lewis’s legs, falling him to the ground.
There, it became life or death for Lewis as Petrus began violently swinging the knife, stabbing Lewis in the face, arms, and neck, while Chip continued lunging at Petrus in an attempt to bite him despite his own injuries.
Eventually, Lewis got one up on Petrus, wrenching the knife from his hand, and after several more minutes of fighting, Petrus fled into the woods, but not before cutting the leash off of Chip, who was now lying motionless on the ground.
Now it was Lewis’s training that kicked in as he ran to Chip’s side, removing his shirt to use as a bandage to stop the dog’s bleeding. But it was too late, the dog’s eyes were glazed over: cradling his partner’s head in his lap, Lewis heard Chip’s final gasp before he succumbed to his injuries.
Having lost the ERT prior to finding Petrus, Lewis—heading for the sound of a distant highway—says he then stumbled through the woods in shock and suffering heavy blood loss for 20 minutes before finding the road and flagging down a driver.
The attack on Lewis and Chip upped Petrus’s crimes from unpaid bills and tolls to attempted murder of an RCMP officer. But before being charged, he had to be caught.
So while Lewis was transported to Fraser Canyon Hospital for medical treatment of his knife wounds, a huge manhunt for Petrus was organized. In the end, more than 30 officers from as far as Kamloops to North Vancouver, seven canine units, and a police helicopter combed the area around Hope where Petrus had been last seen fleeing into the forest by Lewis.
Six hours after it began, and covering the span of nearly 10 km, the manhunt for Petrus came to an end near the Nicolum campground just south of Hope by another canine team: RCMP Corporal George Beattie and his police service dog caught Petrus and put him under arrest.
After it was all said and done, Lewis had nine stab wounds to his face, arms and chest that required more than 50 stitches. There were also a few bites from Chip, who’d accidentally bitten his handler while he was trying to subdue Petrus.
When recalling that day on the mountainside, Lewis has said that what kept him going during the assault by Petrus was the phrase, “Never give up, never surrender.” A phrase that he still uses at RCMP Depot in Regina when working with minors at National Youth Engagement Week.
After recovering from the incident for two weeks, Lewis was back on the job, training a new canine partner. “It was hard to get another dog,” he said at the time. “Chip was a phenomenal dog. I think of him often.”
Just out of his pup years, Chip knew when it was time to work and when it was time to play. The training for RCMP dogs produces dogs that will literally die for their handlers. So Chip fought to save the life of his handler with all his might – and his life.
But like the motto Lewis chanted to himself that day, Chip also refused to give up that day—it was his body gave out due to the injuries suffered at the hand of Petrus.
Chip’s body was removed from the mountainside by a helicopter, and mischief charges—which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years—were laid against him for killing Chip.
However, maybe it was because he was a dog, or maybe it was because he was a hero, but either way, the death of Chip in the line of duty affected many people across the province: those in Hope, near where the incident occurred, were especially moved, and never wanted to forget the day a dog gave its life to save his owner. He was born to love, trained to serve, and was loyal until the end.
Wanting to memorialize the heroic efforts of the canine RCMP officer, Pete Ryan, a renowned carving artist from Hope, picked up his chainsaw and out of a stump of wood, he brought to life a nearly-invincible replica of Chip forever standing on guard. Included in the carving of Chip is an RCMP crest to honour his special nature as a police dog, as well as a brass plaque acknowledging the heroic actions of Chip, as well as his tragic ending.
It reads: ‘This carving has been erected in the lasting memory of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Service Dog Chip, killed in the line of duty near Hope, British Columbia, September 13, 1996, while protecting his partner and friend, Cst. Doug Lewis.’
Several hours after leaving Lewis and Chip, and eight kilometres from where he first took off into the wild, RCMP were able to capture Petrus. Perhaps it was a bit of poetic justice that it was another RCMP canine team that apprehended him.
Once in custody, he was charged with the attempted murder of officer Lewis, assaulting a peace officer, robbery, and mischief for killing Chip.
Originally from Campbell River, Petrus was described at the time by Hope RCMP Staff Sgt. Ed Hill as being a man well-versed in surviving in the wilderness, pointing out Petrus “took an experienced police dog and killed it in seconds.”
However, Petrus, who had mental health issues, was remanded in custody for psychiatric examination to determine his fitness for trial. Known back home as the “weird guy,” Petrus began having paranoid delusions after suffering head injuries as a teenager.
Shortly before the Sept. 13 attack, Petrus lost his job due to circumstances beyond his control. It was around this time that those who knew him say they noticed a change in his behaviour. On the day of the manhunt, Petrus began his day by leaving a motel without paying, refusing to pay cash for gas (left a personal cheque instead), and blowing by a Coquihalla toll booth.
However, while in custody that night, Petrus asked to call the Canadian Forces Base in Comox, and told officials there that he was in custody for cutting the throat of his neighbour’s dog.
Provincial judge, Patrick Hyde, found Petrus fit to stand trial in the weeks after the attack, but remanded Petrus in the custody of the Forensic Psychiatric Institute pending future custody hearings.
But in February 1997, Petrus was found not criminally responsible for his actions because of a mental disorder: he’d been off his medication for some a while when he attacked Lewis and Chip.
At the time of the decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Frank Maczko ordered Petrus to continued to be detained until a review board could decide his fate. But a few months later, in July, a provincially-appointed board ordered Petrus to be conditionally discharged into the custody of his parents.
In a report compiled about Petrus, the Institute’s the director said he was “generally satisfied with Mr. Petrus’s insight into his psychiatric illness, (but had) some outstanding concern … that Mr. Petrus does not fully embrace the seriousness and gravity of his offences, nor the influence upon him of past alcohol and drug use.”
Lewis then went on the record saying he was upset that neither he nor his family was notified of Petrus’s release, and as such, was re-victimized.
Petrus died in 2014, and was laid to rest on Sept. 13.
With files from the Hope Standard and Chilliwack Progress archives, as well as the RCMP Police Service Dog archives.
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