Edmonton Journal

How did a parcel-theft probe turn deadly?

Questions remain about police chase, use of spike belt, expert says

- JONNY WAKEFIELD jwakefield@postmedia.com twitter.com/jonnywakef­ield

It was a harrowing chain of events — a police chase that began over suspected package theft and ended in the death of an innocent woman.

But how, exactly, did last weekend's deadly pursuit unfold? How are police supposed to handle such situations? And is it clear yet whether mistakes were made?

The following is an attempt to answer those questions.


According to RCMP, Mounties were investigat­ing a series of parcel thefts in Beaumont Saturday. At around 9 p.m., they found a man and a woman parked in a U-Haul truck outside a business plaza on 50 Street and attempted an arrest.

The truck instead sped off, striking a police vehicle in the process. Officers soon spotted it speeding north on Highway 814 — the road connecting Beaumont and Edmonton — and alerted Edmonton city police and nearby RCMP detachment­s.


Tire deflation devices, commonly known as spike belts or spike strips, are among the tools police use to stop fleeing vehicles. The spike belt in question belonged to the RCMP and was laid by an RCMP officer inside Edmonton Police Service (EPS) jurisdicti­on, RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff confirmed. The spike belt was placed on the road at 50 Street and 22 Avenue SW, a few blocks south of Ellerslie Road SW, south of Anthony Henday Drive.

Savinkoff said officers laid the spike belt at 9:35 p.m. At 9:37 p.m., it was struck by a motorist in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Kassandra Gartner, 45, was one of three uninvolved motorists to hit the spike belt. She was a beloved community member in Fort Saskatchew­an, where she was executive director of the local food bank.

Police say Gartner hit the spike belt and stepped out of her vehicle to inspect the damage. In that instant, the U-Haul sped past, striking and killing her. It came to a stop outside a nearby gas station when it collided with a parked car, injuring the man inside.

Savinkoff confirmed the U-Haul struck the spike belt before the crash. As for whether Gartner was struck before or after the U-Haul's tires were disabled, Savinkoff said, “It all happened at roughly the same time.”

No one else was injured in the incident. Postmedia asked RCMP what happened to the woman in the U-Haul but did not receive a response.


After the crash, a Honda Civic parked at the gas station with a child in the back seat was stolen. Police found the boy unharmed 11 minutes later near 66 Street and 25 Avenue SW — around two kilometres west of the gas station — and reunited him with family.

The stolen Civic, however, was gone. It was missing until early Monday morning when it was found abandoned outside Wainwright, a town 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.


The EPS helicopter, Air 1, was among the units that responded.

The helicopter was captured on video hovering at low altitude and at one point appeared to land on the roadway. Postmedia asked Edmonton police about the helicopter's role but did not receive a response by publicatio­n time.


Hundreds of suspects flee police in vehicles every year. In 2020, there were 832 such “criminal flights” in EPS jurisdicti­on, up 18 per cent over the year before.

Generally speaking, the police approach to such incidents has changed over the years.

“Twenty years ago, we were focused on, ` We've got to catch the bad guy at all costs,'” an EPS official told the Edmonton Police Commission in 2017. “Now, we're looking at what is the scale of that criminal offence versus the risk to public safety.”

Those changes came in response to increasing recognitio­n of just how dangerous police chases can be.

Kash Heed, a former B.C. solicitor general, spent three decades policing in the Lower Mainland. In the early 2000s, he helped overhaul the Vancouver Police Department's criminal flight policy.

“We had a few pursuits that led to fatalities,” he said. “We came up with a completely different procedure on when we would pursue a vehicle and when we would not pursue.”

The new policy allowed officers to block or disable a vehicle if the opportunit­y arose. However, it stressed constant, ongoing analysis by the pursuing officer and supervisor­s, who were required to weigh the risks and benefits of continuing the chase versus letting the suspect go.

Heed said the new policy led to a decrease in property damage and fatalities, with a new focus on identifyin­g suspects by other means and arresting them in less risky settings. Edmonton police have said their policies are similar.


Savinkoff said all police pursuits that originate in RCMP jurisdicti­on are monitored by a supervisor in a control centre.

“Oftentimes if a pursuit is deemed too risky due to public safety concerns it will be terminated,” he said.

When asked who is responsibl­e when a pursuit begins in RCMP territory and enters city police jurisdicti­on, Savinkoff replied, “When a criminal flight goes from one jurisdicti­on to another jurisdicti­on, it would be typical for control to be transferre­d to the police of jurisdicti­on at the earliest opportunit­y.”

He added, “These situations are extremely fast-evolving and control would not be transferre­d until the new police (agency) of jurisdicti­on was in place to assume control.”


Spike belts are risky pieces of equipment. They typically require special training and permission to use, given the inherent dangers of disabling a fast-moving vehicle. In 2011, five police officers in the U.S. died while deploying spike belts, leading police in Dallas, Texas, to ban their use.

Savinkoff said between July and December 2023, Alberta RCMP supervisor­s authorized the use of spike belts on 205 occasions. The devices were used successful­ly in 110 cases, while in the remaining cases the belts were either ineffectiv­e or ultimately not used.

There is always a risk of uninvolved motorists hitting the belt. In 2019, a Parkland County resident lost three tires after striking a belt deployed in another highspeed chase. The driver also exited their vehicle to check the damage, but later submitted a formal compliment about how officers handled the situation.


Police arrested the suspected U-Haul driver in Wainwright Wednesday morning, though no charges had been laid as of publicatio­n time.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigat­es serious injuries and deaths arising from police activity, is probing the incident. RCMP are also promising an internal review.

Asked if he can draw any conclusion­s about how the pursuit was managed, Heed said he did not want to “armchair quarterbac­k.” However, he said he still has many unanswered questions about the case.

“There are questions that need to be asked on the justificat­ion for the police to, number one, pursue the vehicle, number two, continue the pursuit, and number three, to utilize the spike belt,” he said.

 ?? DAVID BLOOM ?? An officer works at the scene of a crash along 50 Street Saturday. Suspected parcel thefts kicked off a police pursuit of a U-Haul truck and use of a spike belt that resulted in the death of a female bystander.
DAVID BLOOM An officer works at the scene of a crash along 50 Street Saturday. Suspected parcel thefts kicked off a police pursuit of a U-Haul truck and use of a spike belt that resulted in the death of a female bystander.

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