RCMP partly to blame in deadly crash: judge
A head on crash that killed two people in August 2008 would not have happened if RCMP had not chased after a driver bent on killing himself, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled.
Gerald Guliker and Viktor Bergen died after Guliker drove his car into Bergen’s in the Fraser Valley community of Agassiz, east of Vancouver. Bergen’s wife, three-year-old daughter and two friends survived the crash.
Inna Bergen and the two friends then filed lawsuits against Guliker and B.C.’s Justice Ministry, alleging RCMP negligence caused the collision.
The civil trial heard RCMP knew at the time that Guliker was suicidal, he planned to kill himself by running into traffic, and he was a flight risk.
A group of Mounties had initially planned to close in on Guliker, who was parked at a local farm. But when Guliker saw the police, he took off in a vehicle, the officers sped after him and he crashed minutes later into an oncoming car.
Justice John Savage said in a decision released Tuesday that even though Guliker was 80 per cent to blame for the collision, the RCMP officers involved were also liable.
“In my opinion, but for the RCMP’s chase or pursuit of Mr. Guliker, the collision would not have occurred,” Savage wrote.
The trial heard that on Aug. 10, 2008, police were told that Guliker breached his restraining order against his ex-wife, and he threatened to kill himself.
Tony Neels, who worked for Guliker also called 911, saying Guliker said he thinks the police are looking for him, he wants to commit suicide, and that the “police won’t get him alive.”
Even though Gulliger, who was on epilepsy and depression medication, often threatened suicide, “he’s really hit the end of the rope today,” Neels said in the court documents.
Guliker’s cousin, Anton Guliker, also reported to police that Guliker mentioned “driving a car into traffic or jumping out into traffic.”
The court heard five RCMP constables decided to head out in separate vehicles and surround Guliker, who had parked his car at a local farm to meet his ex-wife.
While the officers planned to “restrict the three avenues of escape by roadway that were available to (Guliker) from his location,” they had not thought about what to do if Guliker tries to run, said Savage.
“At this point, it was reasonably foreseeable that Mr. Guliker would flee when approached. The RCMP’s additional knowledge that Mr. Guliker was suicidal and had stated an intention to jump into traffic only served to heighten the likelihood that Mr. Guliker would flee,” the judge said.
“I can reach no other reasonable conclusion than that the RCMP plan at that moment was captured by words, ‘If he runs, we’ll chase him.'”
Savage said it was obvious that what the police officers should have done was conduct a proper risk assessment and realize that since Guliker was a flight risk, the lives of other people on the road would be endangered if they pursue him.
Savage said the officers should have called off the chase and consider their options. Instead, their actions led to the deadly crash.
“I have concluded that the RCMP were negligent, their negligence was a cause of the collision, and liability should be apportioned 20 per cent to the RCMP and 80 per cent to Mr. Guliker,” he said.