Officers cleared in Ontario high-speed chase and crash that left two teens dead


TORONTO — No charges will be laid in a high-speed police chase that ended in a in a “catastrophic collision” that claimed the lives of two teens a year ago, Ontario’s police watchdog said Friday.

In a report on the incident, the Special Investigations Unit said Waterloo Regional Police were investigating a suspected abduction when they began pursuing a stolen red Pontiac in Cambridge, Ont., the morning of Oct. 5, 2017.

The agency said the Pontiac didn’t stop when officers tried to pull it over. Soon after, it said, the vehicle crossed into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a truck in Hamilton, killing both occupants — 15-year-old Nathan Wehrle and his girlfriend, 16-year-old Taryn Hewitt.

SIU executive director Tony Loparco said there’s no evidence that the officers involved in the chase were responsible for the crash.

“I am unable to establish that there was a causal connection between the actions of both subject officers and the catastrophic collision that caused the tragic deaths of both (teens),” he wrote.

“The police decision to begin the pursuit was initially as a result of a reasonable belief that the driver of the vehicle had committed a violent assault and was involved in the continuing abduction of a frightened young woman.”

Police began investigating after a witness reported an assault and possible abduction shortly after 9:30 a.m., according to the SIU report.

“I’m just witnessing a man beating the living daylights out of a young lady,” the witness told a 911 dispatcher, according to the SIU. The caller then said the man — later determined to be the teenaged Wehrle — appeared to force the girl into the car, the agency said.

The witness followed the car and stayed on the line with 911 for eight minutes before police caught up to them and took over the pursuit, the SIU said.

The officers, who were in separate cars and were trying to box Wehrle in, reached speeds as high as 173 kilometres an hour over the course of the 10-minute chase, the report said.

Shortly before 10 a.m., the Pontiac tried to navigate a curve at about 120 kilometres an hour but lost control, swerving into oncoming traffic, the SIU said. It collided with a fully loaded tractor trailer at a speed of about 80 kilometres an hour.

The car was pinned under the truck’s grill, and together the vehicles careened toward the side of the road before coming to rest on the shoulder, according to the report.

Over the course of the investigation, the SIU interviewed four officers who witnessed parts of the incident, as well as 19 civilians, including Hewitt’s mother.

The report said that five minutes before the crash, Hewitt sent a text message to her mother that read, “I’m so sorry for everything, we stole a car and we’re in a high speed chase.”

Her mother didn’t see it until after the collision and sent a response, the report said. She never heard back.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press