The harrowing moments when a Vernon Mountie faced a hail of bullets while in the line of duty were relived as Day 2 of Michael Edward Ellis’s 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 man” 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 Swan Lake Road 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. Occasionally he rubbed his face, or held his head in his hands, but he didn’t offer any indication that gunplay with the Mounties two years earlier had left an emotional mark.
For Const. Jetta Williams, however, memories of that day clearly weigh heavily.
Williams was around 15 minutes behind Gringas 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 of road is chock o block with pedestrians, vehicles carrying recreational gear and RVs.
It’s 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. Brain Nightengale Tuesday. He mapped out the crime scene in GPS and created a map highlighting what happened, where.
In particular, he marked where the Ministry of Transportation vehicle that 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 the various vehicle changes of the alleged shooters were made.
Ellis, accompanied by Shawn Adam Wysynski and Ashlee Collins, changed vehicles two times in their run from police. They started in a grey minivan, then car-jacked a red pickup and later a black pickup.
Evidence of their dangerous trip through the Okanagan, Nightengale explained, spanned a crime scene that was 79.1 kilometres long.
The trial is expected to retrace the chase that started on Boucherie Road from a variety of directions for the next five weeks. Crown counsel is calling somewhere in the area of 40 witnesses to offer their account.
Ellis is facing more than 20 charges, including several counts of attempted murder, several counts of robbery and weapons offences.
Wysynski and Collins confessed their role in the crime in June and will be sentenced this fall.
Collin was shot by police fire when she was riding in the box of a stolen truck. She’s recovered from her injuries.