NEWMARKET, Ont. — A York Regional police officer and father of two young children, speaking on his radio from under the crushing weight of an upturned minivan, remained stoic to the end Tuesday as his life was cut tragically short by a routine traffic stop gone horribly wrong.
The dying words of Const. Garrett Styles, who was able to call for help with his police radio, were captured moments after the bizarre tragedy began to unfold in the early hours on a rural highway north of Toronto.
“I’ve got a van on my waist — I don’t know, it hurts,” Styles says, his voice measured and calm but clearly in distress, in a call to dispatchers that was archived by the scanner website RadioReference.com.
“Will somebody get this off me, please?”
Styles had been standing alongside the door of the driver — an unidentified 15-year-old boy, according to police — when the vehicle suddenly accelerated, dragging the officer for some 300 metres and trapping him underneath it.
During the call, the dispatcher tries several times to reassure Styles, telling him help is on the way.
“I know you’re having a hard time breathing. Just keep talking to us. Garrett, talk to me, OK?” the dispatcher says, the emotion mounting in her voice.
“I’m trying. I’m trying,” comes the desperate reply.
Styles died in hospital about an hour after firefighters freed him.
The driver — who police say had three teenaged passengers in the car — is in hospital with serious injuries.
The death of Styles, who would have turned 33 on Sunday, rippled through the police and civilian communities.
Officers hugged and cried at the scene of the incident, and the flag at the district headquarters where Styles was based flew at half-mast.
Among those placing flowers outside the detachment in Newmarket was 12-year-old Victoria Watson-Setejak of nearby Aurora, Ont.
“I felt horrible,” she said.
“The police already do so much for the world and to hear someone passed away doing a good thing makes me feel bad.”
York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe described Styles as a dedicated, up-and-coming officer and devoted family man.
Born and raised in Newmarket about 45 minutes north of Toronto, Styles leaves a nine-week-old son and two-year-old daughter.
The officer came from a policing family. His father, Gary, retired in January after a three-decade career with York Regional Police. His wife, Melissa, is a civilian employee with the force.
Styles joined the police force seven years ago and was on his way to becoming a staff sergeant, Jolliffe said.
“His supervisors spoke of him as a dedicated, professional, hard-working officer who always had time to assist others,” said Jolliffe.
“He was well-liked among his peers and he loved being a police officer.”
Police said Styles stopped the minivan carrying four teens on Highway 48 east of Newmarket at about 5 a.m. Jolliffe said the passengers in the minivan were co-operating with police.
Styles’ death comes six months after Toronto police officer Ryan Russell was struck and killed by a stolen snowplow he was trying to stop.
Just last week, an officer from Peterborough in eastern Ontario was shot and wounded during a drug raid on a suspected crack house in nearby Lindsay, Ont.
“Police officers put their lives on the line each and every day when they leave their families to protect others,” Jolliffe said.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Styles’ death, and also acknowledged the dangers of policing.
“We ask them to uphold our laws, protect our homes and, if need be, put our safety before theirs,” he said.
Other police officers and politicians echoed similar sentiments.
— With files from Pat Hewitt in Toronto