REGINA — Saskatchewan RCMP say they followed policy correctly when they called off the pursuit of a stolen truck, which was later involved a deadly crash.
Three women from Edmonton were killed and a fourth woman was hurt last Friday when the stolen truck slammed into their minivan near Lloydminster, Sask.
Officers had been following the truck, but were ordered to pull back about half an hour before the crash.
Staff Sgt. Rob Embree said a stolen vehicle is a serious offence, but the danger to the public is much higher with a pursuit.
"I think it's very important to realize that every time that we're involved in a pursuit, we put our members and the general public at risk. We know that, so we have to take that into serious account."
"In this situation, members were involved with what they believed to be at the time a stolen vehicle. The reality is that does not meet the threshold to continue the pursuit."
Curtis Zablocki, the commanding officer for RCMP in Saskatchewan, said in a news release Saturday that the decision to terminate the chase was made in conjunction with the force's Emergency Vehicle Operation policy.
In 2009, the RCMP prohibited high-speed pursuits of stolen cars. A situation involving a firearm or an abduction could still justify a pursuit.
The decision came in the wake of previous tragedies, including a pursuit on a highway near Slave Lake, Alta., in January 2006.
A Mountie had been chasing a stolen truck for only 17 seconds at 150 km/h when the officer saw the truck start to fishtail across the highway. The officer backed off, but the truck drifted across the centre line and slammed head-on into a car. A woman and three children were killed.
Embree said officers will initially follow a vehicle with lights and sirens on, but will reconsider the situation if the vehicle doesn't stop.
Calling off a pursuit can also be tough for officers, said Embree.
"We, as police officers, we always want to catch the person that's involved," he said.
"But I think there's an understanding by all of us that we have policies in place to deal with the decisions that we make and, in this situation, the policy indicated that we would not continue in the pursuit."
The RCMP have been criticized for their handling of the incident near Lloydminster.
Curtis Byford said in a Facebook post that he called police last Friday after three trucks pulled into his yard at 1:05 a.m. The occupants from the three trucks then got into one truck and left, he said.
Byford said that while he was giving a statement to two officers who responded to his call, the truck returned. He said Mounties chased the truck as it fled, but they soon came back after being told to stand down.
That was the truck involved in the fatal crash.
"I could see the frustration in there (sic) eyes when they cam (sic) back," he wrote. "One comment was 'We had them, we were right on them in a faster vehicle with wide open roads, they could not have gotten away.' "
Byford said officers should be allowed to decide whether it's safe to pursue someone, "NOT someone sitting behind a computer."
"THREE people are dead because of a policy," he wrote.
Eva Tumbay, 37, Jeannette Wright, who was 53, and 35-year-old Glorious David died in the crash last Friday. The fourth woman who is Wright's niece, 32-year-old Janet Wright Gaye, remains in hospital with serious injuries.
Embree could not say if an outside agency has been asked to investigate how the situation was handled.
RCMP also announced Wednesday that Brandon Stucka, 26, of Lloydminster, Sask., is facing charges including criminal negligence causing death, flight from police and possession of property obtained by crime.
He is in police custody and is scheduled to appear in court in North Battleford on Thursday.
Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press