Mother hit and killed by U-Haul was executive director of Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank

Click to play video: 'Fort Saskatchewan mom Kassandra Gartner identified as U-Haul hit-and-run victim'
Fort Saskatchewan mom Kassandra Gartner identified as U-Haul hit-and-run victim
The people of Fort Saskatchewan are remembering Kassandra Gartner, 45, after she was killed during a police chase between Beaumont and Edmonton on Saturday. As Breanna Karstens-Smith reports, the executive director of the Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank is being remembered as a mom to three young daughters, wife and dedicated community builder – Feb 26, 2024

The 45-year-old woman who was struck and killed by a suspect driving a U-Haul cube van Saturday night in southeast Edmonton was the executive director of the food bank in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.

Kassandra Gartner was a mother of three daughters and a resident of the city northeast of Edmonton.

“Our community is really in shock,” said Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur. “She has just been an amazing person in our community.

“She leaves behind three young daughters, her husband, many family and friends,” the mayor said. “Everybody has just been touched by the loss of Kassandra so unexpectedly.

“Our community is truly grieving alongside the family at this time of loss. There’s really so few words we can say when it comes to a tragedy such as this.”

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Gartner’s family issued a statement on her death.

“This with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Kassandra Gartner, a beloved wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and a pillar in our community who tragically lost her life in an incident on Saturday night.

“Through her years of service, Kassandra touched the lives of many through her dedication to the Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank, leaving an everlasting mark on our community.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the extended family, friends and the community during this difficult time,” the statement continued.

“We will forever cherish the memories Kassandra leaves behind. Her presence will be greatly missed, but her spirit will continue to inspire us all.”

Kassandra Gartner,
Kassandra Gartner, 45, was the exec. dir. of the Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank. Courtesy: Facebook/Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank

Gartner was one of several civilians caught up in a high-speed police chase that involved several stolen vehicles and multiple municipalities.

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It started in Beaumont, south of Edmonton, at around 9 p.m. when RCMP officers tried to pull over a U-Haul truck they had deemed suspicious.

But the U-Haul — with a male driver and female passenger inside — rammed the RCMP vehicle and sped away, RCMP said.

The Edmonton Police Service, including its Air One helicopter, and Leduc and Strathcona RCMP detachments, responded to help.

As the U-Haul truck was driving north into Edmonton, a tire-deflation device (spike belt) was deployed by RCMP, which also disabled three civilian vehicles.

Click to play video: 'Woman killed, man hurt, child briefly abducted during criminal chase in south Edmonton: Police'
Woman killed, man hurt, child briefly abducted during criminal chase in south Edmonton: Police

Gartner was in one of them. She got out to inspect her vehicle and was fatally hit by the U-Haul as it drove north on 50th Street, police said. The suspect driver did not stop and kept heading into Edmonton.

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“The suspect vehicle then collided with another civilian vehicle, leaving an adult male in serious non-life-threatening condition,” police said.

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Security expert Neil LeMay, with Global Enterprise Security Risk Management, said spike belts are often used very successfully by law enforcement to stop criminal pursuits.

“The, probably, go-to tool for the police to end a pursuit is the spike belt,” he said.

LeMay said police forces have rules around when and how to use the tool.

“It’s very unfortunate that this person was killed, but I think we have to keep in mind that it was the suspect that killed this person — not the police.”

Innocent man seriously injured after vehicle involved in fatal hit and run in Edmonton on Feb. 25, 2024. Eric Beck, Global News

Edmonton police say the suspect vehicle then stopped outside a 7-Eleven convenience store and gas station off 22nd Avenue and 50th Street, before someone in the U-Haul stole a Honda Civic car that was parked outside the gas station. Police said the car had a child inside.

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Moments later, the child was found unharmed at 66th Street and 25th Avenue. The suspect then fled the scene in the Honda Civic, police said.

The stolen car was recovered by police Monday morning near Wainwright, Alta., police said.

Edmonton police allege the suspect in a high-speed, fatal pursuit left a U-Haul outside a gas station off of 22nd Avenue and 50th Street on Feb. 25, 2024. Eric Beck, Global News

“This is a horrible, horrible thing to have happen,” LeMay said, adding he’s thinking of the victims’ families.

He said police forces across North America struggle with high-speed pursuits and how to “de-risk” them.

“When I left policing there was a very stringent procedure and protocol around the initiation around high-speed pursuits or any type of pursuit that might turn into a high-speed pursuit.”

Click to play video: 'Fatal 50th Street crash witness describes chaotic scene in south Edmonton'
Fatal 50th Street crash witness describes chaotic scene in south Edmonton

LeMay says police consider multiple factors like the time of day, road and traffic conditions, weather, the number of pedestrians around, the  experience of the police officers, and if there are other passengers in the suspect vehicle and who those people are.

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“All this information has to be analyzed and a decision made within seconds because this is unfolding at 140, 160 kilometres an hour.”

He says, most of the time, high-risk pursuits are called off because the risk to the public is too great.

“If that child had been harmed in some way, I’m sure there would be critics coming out saying: ‘Police should have done more to stop him before he got there.’ So police are in a constant Catch-22,” LeMay said.

“Their duty is to apprehend criminals. Their duty is to maintain public safety. At times, there’s a real tug of war between the two that we train our police officers to handle, to de-risk as best they can in situations that are over in sometimes less than 10 minutes, sometimes less than two or three minutes.”

The suspect has not yet been caught.

He is described as five feet 11 inches and was last seen wearing a black hoodie with white text on the front. He was also wearing brown shorts and black shoes.

Kassandra Gartner, 45, was the exec. dir. of the Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank. Courtesy: Facebook/Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank

A candlelight vigil for Gartner is being planned for Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Fort Saskatchewan city hall. Donations can be made in her name to the Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank building fund.

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“Just so the community can come together and remember Kassandra,” Katchur said.

“To lose somebody in this tragic manner — it’s just unfathomable to think about. Our hearts, our prayers, go out to the family.”

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