A beautiful, sunny day in the Okanagan turned frantic Tuesday as a traffic stop turned into a shootout and pursuit for Mounties.
RCMP officers from throughout the Central and North Okanagan faced a situation that, although prevalent in TV cop shows, is not that frequent in real life: shots fired at police.
Shots were taken at police, a pursuit ensued, roads were shut down, roadblocks were set up, traffic became snarled, more shots were fired, the pursued vehicle was dumped twice in favor of others, an RCMP officer found himself chased and shot at by the suspects, police fired back, the final suspect vehicle was disabled, the suspects bailed and were finally nabbed. It all took right around one hour to unfold.
Details are few at this point. A major investigation is underway and Okanagan RCMP themselves are under investigation from an outside police department because officers were given the order to fire upon the suspects.
What is known comes primarily from radio communications between officers and police dispatch and between the officers themselves.
Sometime close to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, West Kelowna RCMP observed a suspicious vehicle and attempted to make a traffic stop, according to Superintendent Bill McKinnon.
“While following the vehicle in an attempt to pull it over, the officer notified dispatch that he was shot at and requested backup,” said McKinnon.
At some point, according to radio transmissions, the rear window of the van broke.
An alert went out to Central Okanagan officers as the Dodge Caravan took off and hit Hwy. 97 northbound.
He’s shooting at me, he’s shooting at me. He’s shooting at me with a rifle.
A pursuit of the suspects began and initially it was thought the Dodge Caravan was heading down Bridge Hill toward the William R. Bennett Bridge. Officers converged on the bridge and on the intersection of Abbott Street and Hwy. 97.
“I had just come off the bridge,” said Jolinda Froehlich. “I was just going into the left turn lane to get onto Abbott.”
Suddenly, cop cars appeared out of nowhere. Froehlich said she managed to turn left onto Abbott Street and found herself in the left lane with three police cars heading directly at her, lights and sirens on.
Froehlich saw that vehicles were stopped around her and traffic at the Abbott/Hwy. 97 intersection was stopped. Police cars were in the highway lanes, blocking traffic.
“I’m stuck there. I can’t go anywhere,” said Froehlich. “I was like, do I duck? What’s going on?”
Officers reported over their radios that they found a Dodge Caravan. Froehlich saw it, near the Abbott intersection. She also saw officers with their sidearms drawn.
Soon enough, the report came that the Caravan found was the wrong one. It’s rear window was intact.
A police dispatcher announced that there were reports of shots fired on Westside Road.
As Froehlich watched the scene in downtown Kelowna, suddenly most of the Mounties got into their cars and took off westbound over the bridge.
“It was terrifying when you were sitting there,” said Froehlich.
Traffic was at a standstill on the bridge as police cars headed toward Westside Road, which runs along the west side of Okanagan Lake to Hwy. 97.
By 1:55 p.m., a police officer found the suspect Caravan abandoned on Westside Road. Police received a report that the suspects got into a red pickup truck. How the suspects were able to get the truck is not exactly known, but several officers use the term “jacked” over the radio.
Officers asked for an update on when an RCMP helicopter could be brought in to assist with the pursuit. They were told the nearest chopper was an hour away. One officer asked if it was possible to get a helicopter bucketing on the nearby Wilson’s Landing Fire to assist in locating the suspect truck.
Meanwhile, police blocked access to Westside Road, stopping all traffic as the pursuit continued.
The suspects dumped the red pickup truck and were able to get into and drive off with a black pickup truck. They continued driving north on Westside Road.
Somehow, a Vernon police service dog (PSD) unit ended up in front of the suspect black pickup truck, headed northbound. One of the pursuers became the pursued.
The PSD unit became trapped. Westside Road is narrow, winding and with few access points. As police pursued the suspect truck, the truck pursued the PSD unit.
Frantically, the PSD officer said over his radio, “He’s shooting at me, he’s shooting at me. He’s shooting at me with a rifle.”
Another officer replied, “We’re coming buddy, we’re coming as fast as we can.”
Over their radios, officers told the PSD unit to pull over and let the truck go past, but the officer being chased was concerned that if he did, the suspects would fire at him as they go past.
To add to the urgency of the situation, the black pickup truck rammed the PSD unit several times from behind.
Numerous calls were made over the police radio from officers. They wanted to know if they were allowed to fire their guns at the suspects. It is not known who gave the authorization, but officers were told they can fire back at the suspects.
Spike strips were laid out and at some point one of the pickup truck’s tires flattened. A short time later, a second tire was disabled.
The suspect vehicle made it onto Hwy. 97, turning right and heading toward Vernon. Near Swan Lake, the truck pulled over and three suspects bailed from the vehicle.
Just minutes later, the Mounties had one woman and two men in custody. It was about 2:25 p.m., just shy of one hour since shots were fired at police in West Kelowna.
The female suspect was taken to hospital with undetermined injuries, according to a police statement.
A check from the police dispatcher revealed that no officers were injured during the ordeal.
Two hours after the incident, Superintendent Bill McKinnon announced that officers from the New Westminster Police Department were enroute to the Okanagan to begin a use-of-force investigation.
The criminal investigation will be handled by the Southeast District Major Crimes Unit.
Editor’s Note: Much of the above story includes unconfirmed reports.