When the call goes out to 911, the voice is weak but confident: “Someone just tried to strangle me to death.”
The voice belongs to a man, whom Global News is calling Isaac, who had just escaped an encounter with serial killer Bruce McArthur on the evening of June 20, 2016.
In his first broadcast interview, Isaac — whose identity Global News agreed not to reveal as he is a victim of sexual assault — said he still struggles mentally following the attack at a Tim Hortons parking lot in Toronto’s north end.
What was supposed to be coffee and dinner quickly turned into a nightmare, and Isaac’s story provides new details about the night police let McArthur slip through their grasp and he ultimately went on to kill two more people.
McArthur was convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of men connected to the city’s gay village from 2010 to 2017. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Isaac worked as a mechanic in the Canadian Forces for seven years and now continues to work on vehicles at an auto shop in Toronto. He said he met McArthur online around 2011, whom he only knew as Bruce. The two had an on-and-off relationship for years.
WATCH: Remembering the eight victims of Bruce McArthur
“I liked him. I thought he was a nice guy. We never had a problem and we always got along,” Isaac said. “He enjoyed it. I enjoyed it.”
Leading up to the evening of the attack, Isaac said he felt stalked by McArthur, who would often show up at his home unannounced or leave notes under his windshield at his workplace.
“He would be sitting in my driveway many times when I got home,” Isaac said. “All of a sudden, he would show up at my window.”
On the evening of June 20, 2016, the two met in a public parking lot near Bathurst Street and Finch Avenue. McArthur was “insistent” the two get inside his red van, according to Issac.
“He kept saying, ‘Get in the van,’” Isaac recalled. “On the van floor were construction tarps … I didn’t think twice of it because the guy is a landscaper.”
Once inside, McArthur asked him to lay down on the floor — with the middle seats removed — before he suddenly grabbed Isaac’s neck with such a force that he felt his eyes bulge.
“We are laying down, and he’s on top of me… he had his legs over my legs. My right arm is under his weight,” he said. “His face turned from a smile to a scowl. He had a look of anger and hatred.”
“With the full force of his open hand, he grabbed my neck,” Isaac recalled.
Isaac remembers being unable to breathe and struggling with McArthur, desperate to escape his grasp.
“I knew he was going to kill me,” he said. With precious minutes ticking away, Isaac remembers thinking about his mother: “She’s not going to bury me. No way.”
With his last bit of strength remaining, Isaac was able to break free from McArthur’s control, flip over on to his stomach and throw McArthur off of him.
“When he let go of my neck, that was the sweetest breath of fresh air I ever had,” he said.
Isaac said he then got on top of McArthur, screaming, and thought about “killing him.” Instead, Isaac grabbed the handle of the van door and escaped.
“I said, ‘What the f**k is the matter with you?’” Isaac said. He told McArthur not to move and walked over to his own vehicle to call the police.
WATCH: Man who escaped Bruce McArthur’s van after date turned violent speaks out
An audio recording of a 911 call captured on Isaac’s dashboard camera following the attacks reveals a frantic call to emergency dispatchers. Timestamps from the dashcam show he was inside the van for less than 10 minutes.
“Someone just tried to strangle me,” Isaac is heard saying. “Just somebody get here.”
Video captured on the car’s dashcam shows McArthur’s red van leaving the parking lot and driving into oncoming traffic as he attempted to flee. Isaac said he attempted to give chase before calling police, who told him to pull over.
Isaac said that when police and emergency responders arrived, he immediately began to think: “How do I prove this?”
“They took my statement on scene,” he said, adding that he gave officers a partial licence plate and McArthur’s first name. “But he never told me where he lived. He never wanted to take me to his place. He always used a payphone.”
“The police never contacted me after that. I never heard a thing,” he said.
Toronto officer arrested
Court documents from the police investigation show that police interviewed McArthur after he turned himself in following the attack that night.
McArthur claimed he had known the man for just two to three years and said they were kissing when McArthur said he believed that meant “he wanted it rough,” according to the documents.
WATCH: Timeline in the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur
The documents say Toronto police Det. Paul Gauthier determined McArthur “appeared genuine and credible in his recall of the incident” and decided there weren’t grounds to charge McArthur.
“It was determined that there were no grounds to lay charges, and McArthur was released unconditionally,” the document says.
McArthur later killed Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman in 2017 before he was arrested in January 2018.
Gauthier is now facing two counts of professional misconduct over the 2016 incident for allegedly not videotaping a statement by the victim and photographing his injuries within 72 hours.
In a letter to his colleagues obtained by Global News, Gauthier denied any wrongdoing and said that a “proper investigation was completed.”
“Based on years of investigative experience, I didn’t believe there were grounds to charge McArthur with an offence,” he wrote. “I then took my investigation to my supervisor, the on-duty staff sergeant, and reviewed it with him. The staff sergeant agreed with me and authorized McArthur be released.”
It wasn’t until January 2018 when Isaac was driving and listening to the radio that he heard a landscaper named Bruce had been arrested for a series of killings.
Isaac attended McArthur’s sentencing hearing to get some semblance of closure and was heartbroken to hear the stories of the other men killed.
Court heard how police received a major break in the case when they searched Kinsman’s apartment and found a calendar with the name Bruce written on the date of the 26th. Security footage presented to the court showed Kinsman leaving his apartment and getting into a red van, later identified as McArthur’s 2004 red Dodge Caravan.
Court also heard how police found folders on McArthur’s computer containing images of his victims. In some pictures, bodies are posed with or wearing a fur coat.
Isaac said he remembers seeing a fur coat on the floor of the van the night of the attack.
“I’m thinking about how I was laying in another dead man’s DNA,” he said. “It’s sad.”
McArthur, 67, is serving eight concurrent life sentences in prison for the killings of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman over a nearly 10-year period.
McArthur cannot apply for parole until he’s 91.
Even though he’s locked away, Isaac still catches himself scanning his driveway for a red van.
“After he attacked, I would always slowly pull into my driveway to see if he is there,” he said.