STONY PLAIN — James Roszko didn’t flee after he gunned down four Alberta Mounties inside his Quonset hut. Instead he walked calmly out the massive front door — straight into the gunsights of Const. Stephen Vigor.
“He just casually walked out,” Vigor said Friday at a fatality inquiry into the deaths near Mayerthorpe in 2005.
He testified Roszko had not realized there were more Mounties on the scene and said Roszko, with a rifle slung on his back, a pistol in his waistband and an assault rifle in his hands, looked surprised to see him.
“He recovered quickly,” said Vigor.
Roszko aimed the assault rifle and fired at Vigor twice. One shot smashed into a side mirror on a nearby police cruiser, the other took out a cruiser car window.
Vigor, an auto-theft investigator with tactical team experience, already had his 9-mm gun drawn. He dropped into a shooter’s crouch, held the weapon in two hands, returned fire and fell back.
One shot caught Roszko in the wrist, the other exploded in his thigh.
“He stumbled back into the Quonset,” said Vigor. “I felt like I had hit him but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure.”
Within moments, he said, police had the hut surrounded. Other Mounties were swarming in, some of whom knew the downed officers.
Vigor, with his tactical experience, became by default the man in charge.
From the doorway, he could see a pant leg and boot with the distinctive yellow RCMP stripe down the leg. The other officers were frantic: Let’s charge in, they urged him. Officers down! Let’s go!
It was Vigor’s call. He took stock. The four officers were not responding on their portable radios. Many shots had been fired. Roszko was inside and if he were alive he had three weapons. Police didn’t know the layout of the shed, Roszko did. It was dark in there and anyone going in would be in perfect silhouette with the rising sun behind them.
“I made the decision,” Vigor recalled, his voice catching for a few moments on the stand. “No one goes in there until an (emergency response team) arrives.”
“I felt this was not going to be a rescue attempt. It will be a recovery attempt.
“Had Roszko been alive and able to fire, we would not have had four members dead. We would have had many more.”
Vigor, who retired from the RCMP as a corporal in 2009, was testifying at the inquiry exploring circumstances behind the deaths of constables Brock Myrol, Anthony Gordon, Peter Schiemann and Leo Johnston.
The four had been investigating a marijuana grow-op and stolen auto parts shop in a metal hut on Roszko’s acreage on the morning of March 3, 2005.
Roszko, who was known as an unstable loner but not someone who had ever directly threatened police, had fled the scene the day before, but had somehow slipped past the police guard overnight to re-enter the hut and surprise the officers just before 10 a.m.
Vigor and fellow investigator Garrett Hoogestraat had arrived on scene minutes earlier to begin checking the stolen car parts. Vigor said it was a warm early spring morning, with snow still on the ground and temperatures just above freezing.
He and Hoogestraat were getting their gear together outside the hut when they heard shots and screams inside. Vigor told Hoogestraat to get on the radio and call for help, while he pulled out his gun and raced along the side of the long hut to turn the corner at the end and run into Roszko to start the gun battle.
After the wounded Roszko disappeared inside, Vigor had Hoogestraat drive their large truck to a new spot so they could hide behind it while making sure Roszko didn’t escape.
The big wheels on the truck crunched loudly over snow that had turned icy hard with constant melting and freezing.
“It was making an awful (loud) noise,” he recalled.
That was the only time, he said, he couldn’t hear what was happening in the Quonset. He believes that’s when Roszko turned the assault rifle on himself and shot through the heart.
“That’s the only possible time it could have occurred,” he said.
Vigor was asked, given his tactical experience, if he might have been able to get Roszko had he been with the other four.
No, he said.
“I’d have been dead.”
The hearing continues next week.