Police complaints commissioner to investigate 2022 crash that killed teenagers in British Columbia

Police complaints commissioner to investigate 2022 crash that killed teenagers in British Columbia
Police complaints commissioner to investigate 2022 crash that killed teenagers in British Columbia

The officer was driving 77 mph in the minutes before the suspect vehicle struck the teens’ car

The British Columbia Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has launched an investigation into a 2022 police chase that led to the crash that left two teenagers dead.

The Office of the Chief of Police is investigating the crash that killed Yasbirat Ytatek, 17, and Samir Olyad Suleiman Ali, 18, near the Burnaby-New Westminster border on July 26, 2022. The crash occurred after two Metro Vancouver Transit Police officers were pursuing a suspect vehicle at a high rate of speed, during which the suspect vehicle struck the teens’ vehicle.

Deputy Police Complaints Commissioner Andrea Spindler told Black Press Media on Tuesday (July 9) that now that the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia has completed its investigation, the OPCC is required to investigate under the Police Act.

Spindler said the office will appoint an outside law enforcement agency to conduct the investigation. Investigations have a six-month timeline, but it can be extended “to ensure a full and thorough” investigation.

The investigation is “separate and distinct” from the IIO investigation and will review all circumstances, including, but not limited to, any allegations of training, policy or misconduct.”

British Columbia’s Independent Investigations Office concluded its investigation in February and found there were no reasonable grounds to believe an officer had committed an offence. The report into the fatal crash was not released until June 28, after the driver of the suspect vehicle was convicted.

Cory Robert Ulmer Brown was charged in July 2023 with two counts of criminal negligence resulting in death, one count of driving without a license, and one count of fleeing from police. He was recently convicted, allowing the IIO to release its report.

The report found that in the minutes leading up to the fatal crash, the police vehicle was pursuing the suspect at speeds of up to 77 mph.

The officer involved who was acquitted in the investigation did not report to the IIO, but the officer in the passenger seat did provide a statement.

Sandra J. Hentzen, interim director of the Civil IIO, said emergency service drivers may exceed the speed limit if there is a reasonable justification for doing so and the risk to the public is minimal.

“In this case, there were legitimate concerns about the suspect vehicle and there was relatively little traffic, so the officer’s attempts to ‘close the distance’ and then conduct a traffic stop did not pose any significant risk at the time. They were reasonable and lawful,” Hentzen said.

She added that the “tragic accident” was “caused by a combination of the driver of the suspect vehicle’s reckless flight from a legitimate traffic stop and the driver of the second civilian vehicle making a left turn against traffic signs.”

On July 26, 2022, at approximately 11 p.m., two Metro Vancouver Transit Police officers were traveling northbound over the Pattullo Bridge in an unmarked black Toyota Highlander. The officer driving the Toyota, who was the subject of the investigation, asked the other officer in the passenger seat to check their system for a license plate number for a vehicle that had just passed them.

According to the report, the license plate belonged to a vehicle that had previously fled from police. The vehicle continued north on McBride Boulevard and officers followed closely behind.

The officer told the IIO that both vehicles were traveling faster at the time and that GPS data from the police vehicle showed the vehicle traveling 61 mph (98.5 km/h) on McBride Avenue, a 30 mph (50 km/h) speed limit.

The police vehicle stopped behind the suspect vehicle at a traffic light on 8th Avenue, and when the light turned green, the officer activated the vehicle’s hazard lights, which the IIO noted are “not that noticeable” on an unmarked police vehicle. The other officer said there was no immediate indication that the suspect vehicle had noticed the police following it. At the time, the police vehicle was traveling at a maximum speed of 50 mph (81.3 km/h).

The vehicles turned west on 10th Avenue and the suspect vehicle began to accelerate. Police “blipped” the siren several times for five to ten seconds, but there was no response.

The suspect vehicle accelerated and police activated their sirens to full power. The police vehicle slowed to a stop around 4th Street and then turned onto 10th Avenue, accelerating to a maximum speed of 77 mph.

The report states that the police vehicle “then slowed quite abruptly” and came to a stop approximately 500 feet (155 meters) before the intersection of 10th Avenue and 6th Street.

It was at that intersection, when the light was green for 10th Avenue, that the suspect vehicle struck the vehicle carrying the teens, who were making a left turn onto 6th Street. The crash reconstruction indicated that the suspect vehicle was traveling at least twice the speed limit at the time of the crash. The report adds that based on signage at the intersection, the teens’ vehicle was making an illegal left turn.

Officers witnessed the crash and drove to the scene “approximately 43 seconds later.” The occupants of the suspect vehicle were found injured, while the teens were found dead.