It is a controversial matter whenever Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is up against a police constable and the news media know that such a story is capable of bringing new readers/viewers in the shrinking news media market.

The story is that OPP Constable Sean Coughlan has been charged by the SIU with criminal negligence and perjury with respect to a collision that occurred on June 22, 2016 “on a Dawn-Euphemia road in the southeast corner of Lambton County”. Although several news agencies have reported this story no one has actually mentioned the specific roadway where the collision occurred. Also, there appeared to be no mention by the various news organizations that the collision occurred in the few days after its occurrence.

Reporting on the opening day of the trial provided minimal, objective information about what actually transpired. Evidently an ATV rider, Edward Labadie, 25, of Bothwell, Ontario might have been pursued by Constable Coughlan in his cruiser and the specifics of this may be revealed in later days of the trial. It would appear that Constable Coughlan’s version of the event will be that the ATV rider lost control of his vehicle of his own accord resulting in Labadie’s serious head injuries. The alternative view that will likely be posed by the SIU is that Constable Coughlan was somehow involved in causing the crash and that he later perjured himself in failing to report how the events actually unfolded. Is that what will be presented in the future days of the trial? Who knows. Whenever trial proceedings occur there is often a slow release of murky details that lead readers/viewers of news information to speculate and assume. The title of the news article coming from Neil Bowen of the Sarnia Observer Newspaper read “Father of injured ATV rider suggests OPP cruiser hit son’s vehicle” and the article quoted the father, Chad Tunks, as saying his son looked “beaten up” suggesting in the minds of readers that the injuries were related to the police doing the beating and not due to a collision. These are large accusations.

Mr. Tunks also reported seeing skid marks at the accident location suggesting that they were related to the police cruiser during the accident. Meanwhile the defense lawyer, Phillip Millar, told Tunks that those skid marks were created by police during testing following the collision. These facts would appear to be simple to prove or disprove. OPP continually conduct post-collision skid-testing at accident sites to determine the co-efficient of friction of a road surface. A simple photograph of the marks could very quickly confirm which interpretation is correct.

Not unexpectedly, there was information from witnesses who will claim that the cruiser was as close as one or two car lengths behind the ATV to as far apart as two minutes of driving time. Discrepancies like these could be explainable if the observations were made at different times along the progress of the incident. But too often the courts continue to attribute too much importance to  the comments of such witnesses without recognizing  that independent objective facts are needed to support such comments before they should be believed.

There was mention made of blood alcohol testing and the belief by police that Labadie had been drinking and was possibly impaired at the time of the crash because of slurred speech and an alcohol odour. The apparently damaging consequence to that interpretation is that the blood sample “showed a zero blood-alcohol level”. Even though the sample was taken about two-and-a-half hours after the accident the highest reading that could possibly exist from elimination rates would be about 45 milligrams as testified by forensic toxicologist Marie Elliot. So there is some explaining required as to how police could make the impairment conclusion. A person who sustains facial fractures that ultimately result in significant brain injury is likely to exhibit slurred speech yet such conclusions about impairment have been made on previous occasions without any apparent recognition of the paradox.

A point that appears disturbing is that it was Labadie’s father, Chad Tunks, who reported the incident to the SIU and therefore it would be believed that police themselves did not report the incident to the SIU. The reasons why this occurred may or may not be publicly revealed but the lack of reporting of incidents must remain a concern outside of this particular incident.

Otherwise it appears that the OPP have not distanced themselves from Constable Coughlan and, at face value, it would appear that they may be supporting his version of the incident. If so then it lays the framework for a conflict between the OPP and SIU which is more disturbing. Whether Constable Coughlan’s cruiser rear-ended the ATV, as suggested in opening information by Edward Labadie, should be a simple matter to prove or disprove but the details of the problem may become apparent as the trial continues. However the facts unfold it would appear that either the OPP or the SIU have a misunderstanding of the evidence.

Questionable Vehicle Fires That No One Is Willing To Question

In the past 10 days there have been a number of questionable reports of vehicle fires that remain unexplained.

In a CBC News article from Carp, Ontario, a community located near Ottawa, a body was found inside a  vehicle “that caught fire” on May 2, 2018. The very limited information was that arson and criminal investigators were looking into the case.

In an incident on Maple Grove Road in Cambridge, Ontario, on May 3, 2018, a crash involving a transport truck resulted in the truck being “engulfed in flames moments after the collision”. The driver of a car that had collided with the truck was trapped in his vehicle was luckily extricated by fire crews but was in critical condition. It was not made known whether the injuries to the trapped car driver were related to the impact or to the subsequent fire. The obvious issue is that the trapped driver would have been burned to death and further information should have been revealed on the issue.

In a fatal collision on Oxford Township Road 3 on the eastern outskirts of Woodstock, Ontario, a 19-year-old male driver of a 2007 Ford Fusion was reportedly ejected in a head on crash and was died. However the second vehicle, a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro reportedly caught fire and its driver had to be pulled from the vehicle by a passerby. The point is that in major collisions such as these persons can become trapped and cannot be extricated without the help of emergency personnel. So even though this appeared to be a minor fire event it could have been deadly to that Camaro driver.

In another fire reported by the London Free Press on May 8, 2018, a Ford Freestyle van was reportedly parked on Dundas Street near Adelaide Street when it suddenly caught fire while its occupants were shopping. The comment in the story was that the cause of the fire was unknown. Again, what if the fire had occurred in other circumstances where the van was occupied or if restrained children were inside? Such an event could have resulted in very tragic consequences but little attention was paid to it.

In another incident reported on May 11, 2018, CP24 News in Toronto reported that three vehicles were involved in a fire outside a company office. The only comment from police was that the fire was “not believed to be suspicious”. So does that suggest that if the fire was caused by a deliberate act we should worry but because it may not have been deliberate we should move on with our lives? Certainly further information should have been pursed as to how this fire started when it was not suspicious.

In a CBC News article authored by Susan Burgess, thousands of 2008-209 Mercedes Benz Smartcars will be recalled as a result of an number of fires originating at an insulating mat. One of those fires was experienced by Valerie Hovinga Bisset of Elmira, Ontario. The CBC article claimed:

“While Hovinga Bisset reported her fire to Transport Canada, the department declined to inspect her car, yet concluded it was not the result of a safety defect.”

Our observations suggest that the incidence of vehicle fires, whether as the result of collisions or otherwise, appear to be on the increase without much attention being paid to the fact. Every vehicle fire whether it involves the injury of a person or not, should be documented as it could relate to an pattern that might involve similar vehicles. With the decline of formal journalism in the public domain there is a serious concern that investigative journalism is not  being fully involved in examining such issues.