The harrowing moments when a Vernon Mountie faced a hail of bullets while in the line of duty were relived as day two of Michael Edward Ellis’ attempted murder trial got underway.
“He’s shooting at me, he’s shooting at me, he’s shooting at me with a rifle,” a voice identified as belonging to Cpl. Richard Gingras could be heard saying in video and audio footage recorded July 31, 2012 and played in a Kelowna courtroom Wednesday morning.
“He’s got a big, tall rifle and he’s shooting at me.”
Gingras, a dog handler out of Vernon, was directed to get off the road and avoid the bullets coming from the suspect vehicle by another officer, but he explained that was impossible.
“It would be more (dangerous) for me to slow down and get off the road,” he said.
The area of Westside Road where Gingras got in the crosshairs of gunmen was windy, residential and without adequate space to maneuver.
Despite dangerous driving conditions, and the bullets continually being fired at him, Gingras kept ahead of the suspect vehicle, calling out his location to other officers.
“He’s behind me, he’s trying to push me off, but I can’t pull over he’ll shoot at me again,” he said, asking for a road block to be set up on the Vernon side of Westside Road.
At that point in the tape, another police voice can be heard asking for permission to shoot at a moving vehicle, while another offered support to Gingras.
“We got ya — we’re here, Richard,” said the unnamed officer.
Police then were given permission to take “whatever action was required,” as a “member’s life was threatened.”
Police fired rounds at the moving vehicle, but it was ultimately spike belts that slowed the gunmen down. With two punctured tires, they drove on bare rims as far as they could. They abandoned the truck near the Swan Lake junction on Highway 97 and continued on foot. They were apprehended shortly thereafter.
Ellis, who has been in police custody since his 2012 arrest, leaned forward in the prisoner’s booth as the tape played.
For Const. Jetta Williams, memories of that day clearly weigh heavily.
Williams was around 15 minutes behind Gingras in the chase that started on Boucherie Road in West Kelowna.
The video and audio footage played to the court Tuesday came from her cruiser, and spanned the entire distance of Westside Road. From the video it’s clear that the chase took place during peak tourism hours, as the windy stretch was busy with pedestrians, vehicles carrying recreational gear and RVs.
It also was fire season, and road blocks set up for fire crews could be seen as she weaved throughout the traffic at speeds as high as 120 km/hr, despite posted speed limits of 40 km/hr.
Crown Counsel Duncan Campbell asked Williams if she felt comfortable driving at those speeds, given the conditions and as she responded her voice cracked and she started to tear up.
“I felt safe for braking… but we were trying to get to the police officer who was being shot at,” she told the court.
The court also heard form Sgt. Brian Nightengale Tuesday. He mapped out the crime scene in GPS and created a map highlighting what happened, where.
In particular, he marked where a Ministry of Transportation vehicle gave chase to the trio in an attempt to get a licence plate number. Nightengale noted bullet holes on its frame could be seen.
He also mapped out where various vehicle changes of the alleged shooters were made. They started in a grey minivan, then car-jacked a red pickup and later a black pickup.
Ellis is facing more than 20 charges, including several counts of attempted murder, several counts of robbery and weapons offences.
Shawn Adam Wysynski and Ashlee Collins confessed their role in the incident in June and will be sentenced this fall.
Collins was shot by police fire when she was riding in the box of a stolen truck. She’s recovered from her injuries.