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Officer describes chasing U-Haul through downtown Edmonton: ‘I saw people scatter’

Officers who chased U-Haul through downtown Edmonton testify
WATCH: The police officers who were on a high-speed chase after the U-Haul testified at Abdulahi Sharif's trial Thursday. Court heard for the first time from witnesses who tracked how the van was being driven. Fletcher Kent reports.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing content.

Another member of the Edmonton Police Service who was working Sept. 30, 2017, the night a U-Haul careened through downtown, testified at Abdulahi Hasan Sharif’s attempted murder trial on Thursday.

Sharif is accused of ramming a police officer with a vehicle and then stabbing him. A few hours later, it’s alleged Sharif drove a U-Haul van through downtown Edmonton and ran down four pedestrians.

READ MORE: Witnesses, Edmonton police officers testify at Sharif trial

Const. Denis Plesa was in a covert F-350 truck with his partner Const. Chris Tagg that night and ended up following the cube van as it sped along busy downtown roads, curbs and back alleys.

“The U-Haul made its way onto Jasper Avenue and at this time, I was positioned on 101 Street facing south towards Jasper Ave.,” Plesa told court. “During this time, we listened to the transmissions over the police radio and learned through Const. Paulino that the U-Haul was traveling at a high rate of speed, going through red lights and left of centre.

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“I stayed in this position without any emergency lights on up until I observed the U-Haul traveling in my opinion, 70-80 km/h approaching 101 Street, with leaves and road dust in behind it as it sped.”

Plesa said they heard over the police radio that tactical units would be in the primary position for the pursuit. He told court he accelerated and activated his emergency lights and sirens.

“I immediately became the primary vehicle in behind the U-Haul… I observed the U-Haul to be driving left of centre the majority of the time for eight blocks.

“From 101 Street to 109 Street, there are several lights… he went through several of them. During this time, I failed to observe any brake lights coming on at any time,” Plesa told court.

“He maintained a very dangerous speed, making my stomach drop — why he would be doing this.”

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The officer testified that at 109 Street, the U-Haul made a sharp, fast turn and drove in the curb-side lane, where there were pedestrians.

“I can’t recall if anyone was hit at that point, however, I was in total shock with his driving pattern.”

The cube van then approached The Pint, Plesa testified.

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READ MORE: Pedestrians testify at Edmonton trial of man accused of hitting them with U-Haul van

“I remember the U-Haul making a very sharp turn into the alley. This is quite a skinny alley that, on any given weekend night, is very populated with foot traffic.

“I observed the U-Haul gain speed in the alley. The U-Haul appeared to be on a rail. It never wavered. It was very accurate and very direct.”

Plesa said he followed the van as it sped up and went past The Pint.

“I saw people scatter and was hoping to God I wouldn’t run over anybody.

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“At that time, I looked as I went past The Pint and there was a male’s head and curled-up body beside my vehicle,” Plesa said, his voice breaking. “I almost ran the male over with my tire by about a foot and a half. It was at that time that my partner voiced that a pedestrian had been hit.”

Const. Tagg, who also testified Thursday, recalled the U-Haul heading towards the stairs outside the nightclub, where people were waiting to get in.

“I saw the congregation of people jumping onto the stairs to prevent being struck.

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“Just prior to the U-Haul striking the stairs, the U-Haul made a hard right turn to avoid the stairs. The U-Haul struck a younger male from behind and I watched his body smash into the concrete.

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“As it sped down that brick wall, one other pedestrian was struck.”

Watch below (Oct. 9): Pedestrians who were hit by a U-Haul van in downtown Edmonton two years ago say they suffered psychologically after the attack. Vinesh Pratap has the latest from Abdulahi Hasan Sharif’s attempted murder trial.

Edmonton pedestrians hit by van testify at Sharif trial
Edmonton pedestrians hit by van testify at Sharif trial

An effort to stop the suspect vehicle with a police Suburban was unsuccessful, Plesa said. He and his partner continued to follow the U-Haul when it turned south onto 107 Street towards Jasper Avenue.

“The U-Haul gained speed approaching Jasper Avenue… and made a quick and decisive veer… and drove onto the sidewalk right at the corner of the intersection. I remember seeing pedestrians on that corner and wondering: ‘Why?’

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READ MORE: Accused ‘wanted to kill people’ the night of Edmonton vehicle attacks: Crown

“I remember, out of the corner of my eye, objects flying through the air rolling on the ground but I could not identify that as being specifically people, at that time.”

Tagg said the U-Haul struck pedestrians on the corner of 107 Street and Jasper Avenue.

“Instantaneously, he made a hard right turn again and struck a female in the crosswalk,” Tagg told court. “Her lifeless body flew 10 feet in the air and then spun down Jasper Avenue, striking a vehicle.”

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Watch below (Oct. 9): The video recorded from the Edmonton police Air 1 helicopter on Sept. 30, 2017, of the moments before and after the takedown of Abdulahi Hasan Sharif was shown to the jury at his trial Wednesday.

Edmonton police helicopter video shown to jury during Sharif U-Haul trial
Edmonton police helicopter video shown to jury during Sharif U-Haul trial

That’s when Plesa said he heard the command over the police radio to stop the suspect vehicle by any means necessary.

“We have to stop this now,” he recalled his boss saying.

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“Just hearing the sound of my boss’ voice and in the manner he said it, I knew that was it was an extreme situation and that someone either just died or got hurt very badly from the U-Haul veering into the sidewalk… I was weighing my options on how to stop this vehicle.”

When the van turned east onto 100 Avenue, there were few cars or pedestrians, and Plesa said he saw his chance.

“[It] gave me the opportunity to contact his left rear quarter panel of the vehicle… Push through with acceleration and overturn the U-Haul.”

Plesa and his partner Const. Tagg got out and approached the vehicle from the south.

“We approached the cab of the vehicle, rounded the vehicle and observed the accused standing inside the vehicle looking at us,” he said.

“I heard the commands of: ‘Show me your hands.’ I observed the accused lift his hands and held them in the air.”

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A group of police officers approached and smashed the windshield, pulling the driver out and arresting him.

Sharif has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, including five counts of attempted murder. Sharif is representing himself in his trial.

READ MORE: ‘Civilians are hit!’: Edmonton pedestrians struck by U-Haul van testify at Sharif trial

Jack Zubick and Paul Biegel were the two men struck by The Pint. They both testified on Oct. 9 as part of the attempted murder trial.