September 25, 2014 - 2:30 PM
KELOWNA – Two RCMP constables, testifying in the Kelowna Supreme Court trial of accused Westside Road shooter Michael Ellis Thursday afternoon, relived a day they will never forget.
Const. Tara Schneider was working general duty in Vernon the afternoon of July 31, 2012 when a call that police were in pursuit of a suspect who opened fire on them on Westside Road came in over the radio.
Schneider was unable to contact her superiors due to constant radio chatter so she and Const. Clay Fixsen decided to take their vehicles to a roadblock that was being set up north of Vernon where they believed the suspects were heading in a hijacked black pickup.
When Schneider and Fixsen arrived, they helped two other officers set up the roadblock and control the large number of vehicles trying to access Westside Road.
“It was extremely chaotic when we got there. We had an enormous amount of tourists," Schneider said. “They were trying to get around the roadblock. People were getting mad at us.”
Moments later, they heard Cpl. Richard Gingras over the radio shouting "he’s right behind me.”
As Gingras crested the hill and came into view, Schneider and Fixsen crouched behind an unmarked police SUV and drew their guns.
That's when Schneider says she saw the black truck for the first time.
“I saw a low-riding black truck coming straight towards me,” she said. “I yelled ‘I think he’s going to ram us.’”
Fearing for her safety, Schneider opened fire.
“When you shot at the vehicle, where were you aiming?” asked Crown lawyer Duncan Campbell.
Schneider said she fired at the driver’s windshield but couldn't confirm if the bullet struck.
As the driver of the truck made a quick turn onto the Highway 97N on-ramp, Schneider fired a second time into the side of the vehicle and again as it pulled away.
She did not know that Ashley Collins was hiding in the box of the truck.
Schneider broke down when asked to relive the terrifying moments when she had to make the decision to discharge her weapon.
“He was close enough (to me) that it had me scared,” she said. “He was coming straight at me.”
Const. Fixsen, who was standing near Schneider, says he too feared for his safety but did not fire his gun.
“I thought he was coming right through the roadblock,” he said. “I felt I was dead.”
Schneider got a good look at the driver as he went past and described him as Caucasian, heavy set and scruffy. He estimates the truck was going roughly 60 to 80 km/h in the middle of the road and that he saw a passenger “hunched over, with his back to the driver.”
“It looked like he was bracing for an impact,” he said.
Once the truck passed the roadblock headed north on Highway 97, Consts. Schneider and Fixsen got into their vehicles and joined the line of police cars in pursuit.
“I think every police officer in the Okanagan was there,” he said.
Fixsen said the last thing he saw before being called back to the office was the truck stopped on the side of the highway and a woman on the ground next to it. A man was down the embankment with a police dog latched onto his bleeding left leg.
Fixsen said in court he couldn’t be sure if the man he saw that day was Ellis.
At some point during the chase, Ashley Collins was hit by a bullet. She and Shawn Wysynski pleaded guilty to being in a vehicle with a restricted weapon.
Michael Ellis faces more than a dozen charges, including attempted murder and other gun related offences.
The trial is expected to last several more days.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014