ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY AND JILL MAHONEY
Friday, January 14, 2011 – Globe and Mail
ST. CATHARINES, ONT. AND TORONTO — Richard Esber Kachkar, who police allege drove the snowplow that killed Sergeant Ryan Russell, would have been no stranger to that kind of heavy machinery.
For 10 hours a day, five days a week over three months, Mr. Kachkar trained to use heavy machinery at the St. Catharines campus of Transport Training Centres, a program his instructor said was funded by the Ontario government.
And, according to the woman who taught him how to control the heavy, complex machinery, the 44-year-old Mr. Kachkar was an able student.
“He was very conscientious,” Cat Duly-Lisle said. “He was so careful.”
While the grader snowplow on which he’d trained was larger and more complex than the plow he’s alleged to have stolen in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, Ms. Duly-Lisle said, he would have understood how lethal a machine like that can be – one with a blade capable of slicing through a police car “like a can opener.”
Ms. Duly-Lisle taught Mr. Kachkar how to operate heavy-duty vehicles during a training course funded through Ontario Works in the spring and summer of 2009, she said.
He was a bright student: He picked up complex instructions swiftly and seemed to relish the challenges of operating the equipment. He favoured the backhoe, like a “Swiss Army knife” in its multitasking complexity, Ms. Duly-Lisle said.
“It’s got everything in it. … You can use it as a bulldozer, whatever you want. I think that was his favourite.”
Mr. Kachkar was the class clown of the tight-knit class. “He’s funny as hell,” Ms. Duly-Lisle remembered.
He was also clean-cut, almost comically so, dressed like a businessman among construction workers.
He kept in touch with Ms. Duly-Lisle sporadically after the course ended. “I’m keeping busy with work, fixing my building and just being myself ‘helping people reach new levels of insanity,’ ” he wrote in an e-mail on April 15, 2010.
Police have identified Mr. Kachkar as the man who allegedly leapt barefoot into a snowplow near Regent Park around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, stealing the vehicle and setting off a two-hour chase across Toronto’s downtown. Police say he careened the plow between cars and rammed into Sgt. Russell near the corner of Davenport and Avenue Road.
The rampage ended when the snowplow ran into a garbage truck and police shot Mr. Kachkar near Keele and Annette streets, north-east of High Park.
Mr. Kachkar is recovering from bullet wounds at St. Michael’s Hospital. He faces one charge of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.
He was formally arraigned and remanded into police custody on Friday in a phone call with a justice of the peace from his hospital bed, Detective Sergeant Dan Nielsen said. He is to appear in court on Jan. 21.
Det.-Sgt. Nielsen said a camera in Sgt. Russell’s cruiser captured “quite a bit of the events” leading to his death. “It certainly helps us. It’s going to be a big part of the investigation,” he said. The windshield-mounted camera was automatically activated when Sgt. Russell turned on his car’s red and blue lights.
Mr. Kachkar, who has two grown children and separated from his wife about five years ago, has no history of mental illness, Det. Sgt. Nielsen said. He also does not have a criminal record. He was born in Edmonton and lived in Vancouver before moving to Ontario.
Mr. Kachkar was a familiar face at St. Catharines’ Southridge Community Church homeless shelter. He took on odd jobs through a temp agency, and owned a tiny property on Geneva Street he called his “shop” – a battered brick building with no hydro, empty save for a couple of tables.
Brian Jenkins knew that shop well – he’d visit his good friend Mr. Kachkar there often, where they’d chat and Mr. Kachkar would talk about his dreams for the place.
Mr. Jenkins last saw Mr. Kachkar last Saturday evening. He stopped by Mr. Jenkins’ house around 8 p.m. to chat, but seemed distraught.
“He was pretty much not himself – he was depressed,” Mr. Jenkins said. “He was quiet, really didn’t want to say much. I couldn’t figure it out … I was more or less shocked.”
With a report from Stephanie Chambers