Slain Const. Vu Pham’s life might have hinged on a single second, a police defensive tactics expert testified today a corner’s inquest.
Chris Lawrence, an instructor at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ont., testified at the inquest into the deaths of the Ontario Provincial Police officer and his killer, Fred Preson.
He said Pham did everything right when he stopped Preston’s truck on March 8, 2010.
He parked his cruiser the correct distance behind Preston’s vehicle and quickly took cover behind his car when Preston unexpectedly grabbed a rifle and trained it on him, Lawrence said.
But the two seconds it takes the average police officer to take their gun from its holster, bring it up and fire it is about half a second longer than it takes to raise a rifle from waist level to shoulder level and pull the trigger.
Because Preston acted first, Lawrence explained, the odds against Pham were enormous.
"If you have to wait for the threat to produce itself, you’re way behind,” he said.
Still, Pham’s gun did fire a single bullet, but it missed Preston. It’s not known if the trigger was pulled in self-defence or if Pham squeezed it while being shot.
Lawrence also commended Pham’s partner, Del Mercey, for having the presence of mind to use his cruiser’s tires as cover while outgunned and with nowhere else to hide.
When Preston got into position behind the right rear tire of Mercey’s SUV and continued to shoot, Mercey moved slightly from side to side in a shallow ditch forcing Preston to move the rifle from one side of the tire to the other before almost every shot, Lawrence said.
It also briefly exposed Preston each time.
Mercey took advantage of those moments to hit Preston six times and save his own life.
"The fact he could think of that at the time is exceptional," Lawrence said. "He’s doing it the way we like to see it done."
Like police officers who have taken the stand before him, Lawrence said a law that would force motorists and their passengers to remain in their vehicles during a traffic stop would benefit both police and the public.
Such a law may be one of the recommendations that comes from the five-person jury after testimony ends next week.
In earlier testimony Tuesday, paramedic Ben Driscoll, Preston’s nephew and the man who immediately treated him after he’d been shot by Mercey, said paramedics debated who should be flown to hospital by the first air ambulance to arrive.
It had been said that Pham had died at the scene, but coroner’s counsel Mark Poland disputed that. He said Pham was still breathing when it was decided that he should be flown to a London hospital.
Preston was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Seaforth before a Toronto-based chopper transported him to London as well.
Pham died that day. Preston survived for three days before he succumbed to his injuries.
The inquest continues Wednesday.