An independent probe into a 2019 fatal collision that occurred during a police chase near Red Deer has not yet been completed, partly because of an investigation backlog.
Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was directed to investigate the circumstances around the crash at Highway 815 and Highway 11, about 15 km east of Red Deer on the afternoon of July 31, 2019.
Corim Conway, of Red Deer, was at the wheel of a stolen Ford Mustang, with his girlfriend Jillian Young in the passenger seat, when he ran through a stop sign and was T-boned by an eastbound pickup. Conway had been chased by police on and off through Blackfalds and Red Deer, reaching speeds up to 150 km/h, and had just avoided a spike belt when the collision happened.
Young, 24, was badly injured and taken to Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, where she died. Conway was also badly hurt and airlifted to an Edmonton hospital where he spent four days being treated.
Conway pleaded guilty last year to a number of charges, including dangerous driving and fleeing police and was sentenced on Thursday to six years in prison, which was satisfied by three years already served in custody. He was also put under house arrest for six months and will have to observe a curfew for about another six months.
ASIRT executive director Mike Ewenson said he expects the findings of the investigation to come out within weeks.
Once an investigation is complete the file is reviewed by Ewenson and his assistant executive director as part of a civilian oversight process.
“We review the entirety of the file and then make a determination whether or not it’s reasonable to conclude an officer committed a criminal offence,” said Ewenson on Friday. “So, we’re heading to that portion of the investigation and our determination should be made fairly soon.
“I’m hesitant to give you an exact window of time, but I’m thinking of weeks, not months or years.”
It is not unheard of for investigations of this kind to take some time. On Friday, ASIRT released the results of a review of a fatal Nov. 20, 2018 collision in Grande Prairie caused by a driver who had been earlier fleeing police.
The pursuing officer had pulled over to the side of the road and four kilometres down the road the vehicle he had been pursuing slammed into another vehicle, fatally injuring the lone occupant. Just prior to the crash, the driver fleeing police had speeds of 126 km/h, more than twice the posted speed limit.
ASIRT concluded the officer did not contribute to the fatal collision and no criminal charges were recommended.
Ewenson said under-funding contributed to the length of the investigations and findings, including the Conway case.
“I’d say fair to say it’s part of the reason for sure. We basically had more investigations being assigned to us than we could clear. The inbox was going up and the outbox wasn’t keeping pace, but we’ve turned that around in the last number of months.”
“Part of the reason for that is ASIRT was historically underfunded,” he said, adding that led to a backlog of investigations.
The Alberta government responded to calls for more funding help in its last budget, boosting ASIRT funding by 40 per cent — or $1.5 million — which allowed it to increase the number of investigators to 26 from 21, as well as add other support staff.
“We’ve been more productive than we ever have been, but, of course, we have a lot of investigations to go through.”
ASIRT’s mandate is to independently and objectively investigate incidents involving Alberta’s police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.