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SIU clears police in death of man who drove van into Georgian Bay

Incident involving 81-year-old man, who told officer he had 'nothing to live for,' began after Midland traffic stop last October
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The area where the man drove his van into Georgian Bay.

The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has cleared a local OPP officer in connection with an elderly man’s death last fall.

In a decision released Friday, SIU director Joseph Martino found no reasonable grounds that the Southern Georgian Bay OPP officer had committed a criminal offence in connection with the 81-year-old’s death. The investigation into the man’s death began shortly after his body was recovered from his vehicle that had plunged into Georgian Bay at Midland Bay Landing.

“Director Martino was satisfied that the officer involved did not transgress the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law in connection with the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate death of the man,” the SIU announced. “The file has been closed.”

The interaction between the man and the officer began at about 3 p.m. on October 28 when the officer stopped the man at the intersection of Yonge and William streets after noticing a homemade validation sticker affixed to the vehicle's licence plate .

"The police officer had stopped a vehicle after checking the licence plate and confirming that the registered owner was a suspended driver," the report said, noting the white Chevrolet minivan's licence plates actually belonged to another vehicle and had expired in 1989.

The man then asked to be let off with a warning, the report noted.

"The (officer) indicated he could not do that, but assured the man that the van would be returned to his home before proceeding to his cruiser to prepare several infraction notices."

The man suddenly left the scene with the officer catching up to him and pulling him over on Yonge Street in the area of the Olive Street intersection.

"He refused to turn off the ignition at the officer’s direction, reached into his centre console and retrieved a small revolver, saying he had nothing to live for and planned to kill himself. The (officer) moved back from the front driver’s window of the van a few steps, and watched as the man returned the gun to the console and continued to drive eastward."

The man then continued driving along Yonge and turning onto Aberdeen Boulevard with the officer following at a distance of about one car length.

The man then turned into the Midland Bay Landing parking lot and drove his vehicle into the bay, according to the report.

Officers then entered the water, but the van had drifted out from shore about 10 metres, bobbing in the water. The man did not exit the vehicle.

Shortly thereafter, the OPP's Underwater Search and Recovery Unit was called to the scene with the man’s body being recovered at 6:49 p.m.

The SIU was called in soon after with the independent body assigning three investigators and two forensic investigators assigned to the case.

During their investigation, the SIU determined the pistol, which had been located on the floor of the van, was an eight-chamber Sprinter starter pistol. The chamber was opened and it was loaded with eight blank ammunition cartridges; one had been spent.

An autopsy revealed the man died from drowning with thoracic trauma.

The SIU’s mandate is invoked anytime there is an interaction involving police and someone is seriously injured, dies or alleges sexual assault.

Under the Police Services Act, the SIU director must consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid.