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Police drove 124 km/h following car that killed 2 teens on Burnaby-New West border: IIO

Despite a police SUV driving 'significantly above the speed limit' while following a car that slammed into another car and killed two teenagers on 10th Avenue in July 2022, B.C.'s police watchdog says the crash wasn't caused by any offence on the police officer's part.
Yaris crash01
A section of 10th Avenue on the Burnaby-New Westminster border was shut down in July 2022 as police investigated a fatal crash.

B.C.'s police watchdog says a police SUV reached speeds over 124 km/h in a 50 km/h zone while following a car that went on to crash into another vehicle and kill two teenagers on the Burnaby-New Westminster two years ago.

Vancouver's Samir Oliyad Suleiman Ali, 18, and Burnaby's Yasbirat Mesfin Ytatek, 17, died in hospital after a Nissan Altima slammed into their Toyota Yaris on 10th Avenue by Sixth Street on July 26, 2022.

Cory Robert Brown, 28, was sentenced last month to five-and-a-half years in prison and a 10-year driving ban after he pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death in the crash.

The Independent Investigations Office investigated the incident because a Metro Vancouver Transit Police officer driving an unmarked police vehicle had tried to pull Brown over shortly before the deadly collision.

The IIO announced in February it had cleared the officer, who is not named in the report, of any offence but said it wouldn't release a full report until the criminal case was concluded.

That report, published Friday, says the officer being investigated first spotted the Altima when it passed his black, unmarked Toyota Highlander on the Patullo Bridge, according to an account provided by another officer in the passenger seat of the police vehicle that day.

(The officer under investigation did not give an account of the incident to the IIO.)

A licence plate check revealed the Altima had previously fled from police, according to the report.

The officer followed "close behind" the vehicle as it headed north on McBride Boulevard in New Westminster.

After stopping behind the Altima at a red light on Eighth Avenue, the officer turned on his emergency lights when the traffic light turned green, according to the report, but there was no response and "no immediate sign" the driver of the Altima had noticed the police following.

Both vehicles turned left (westbound) onto 10th Avenue, and the officer in the passenger seat said the Altima then "started to pick up speed," and the officer in the driver's seat "blipped" the siren "a few times."

There was no response for five to 10 seconds, according to the officer in the passenger seat, but then the Altima began to accelerate away "more significantly," and the officer driving turned the siren on fully.

After another one or two seconds, however, the officer in the passenger seat said the officer driving the police vehicle turned off the siren and lights and slowed to a stop at around Fourth Avenue, according to the report.

But that was only after the police vehicle had reached a maximum speed of 124.3 km/h in a 50 km/h zone on 10th Avenue, according to GPS data.

The data shows the police vehicle slowed "fairly abruptly" and stopped about 155 metres from the site of the crash, according to the report.

The IIO report noted the Altima, going "at least" twice the posted speed limit, had had a green light on 10th Avenue when it plowed into the Yaris as the Yaris was making an illegal left turn onto Sixth Street.

The evidence showed the officer drove at speeds "significantly above the speed limit" while following the Altima, according to the report, but Sandra Hentzen, interim chief civilian director of the IIO, said drivers of emergency vehicles are allowed to speed when there is a "reasonable justification and risk to the public is minimal."

"In this case, there were valid concerns about the suspect vehicle, and traffic was fairly light, so (the officer’s) attempts to 'close the distance' and then attempt a traffic stop did not create appreciable risks at that point," Hentzen said in the report.

She said the officer had turned off his siren and pulled over within a "very brief time" after the Altima sped away.

"The tragic accident at the Sixth Street intersection was caused by a combination of the driver of the suspect vehicle's reckless flight from a legitimate traffic stop, and the left turn against signage by the driver of the second civilian vehicle. It was not caused by any offence, either criminal or provincial, on (the officer's) part," Hentzen said.

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