HINTON — A minivan involved in a deadly head-on collision with a truck during a police chase on the wrong side of a highway was stolen, the head of a provincial review agency said Friday.
Both the 21-year-old operator of the minivan and the innocent driver of the pickup were killed in the fiery crash near Hinton, Alta.
Clifton Purvis, executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, wouldn’t say where the vehicle was taken from. But he suggested the fact it had been reported stolen may explain why the driver failed to stop for Mounties, who had tried to pull him over near the community around suppertime Thursday.
The situation began well to the west of Hinton when an off-duty RCMP officer reported a van being driven erratically.
The driver refused to stop for a police cruiser at the east gates of Jasper National Park. But Purvis said police did not pursue the van at that point and instead informed officers in Hinton that the vehicle was headed east their way on Highway 16.
The driver didn’t stop for police in Hinton either and sped away as it entered the community with at least two cruisers in pursuit.
“It then began to travel eastbound in the westbound lanes of the divided highway that runs through the town of Hinton,” Purvis said.
What happened next is still under investigation, but early reports suggest the van veered back into the proper lane, before again steering into the oncoming lanes of traffic, he said.
Drivers who saw the van coming at them were forced to get out of its way.
“I know that there are reports that numerous cars took evasive action to avoid a collision.”
Police have said the van swerved to avoid one vehicle as it reached the community’s eastern boundary, but collided with the truck. The wreckage then burst into flames.
It’s believed both male drivers were killed before the fire.
There were no passengers in either vehicle, Purvis said.
Efforts were still being made Friday to officially identify both men. Because no positive identification had been made, Purvis couldn’t say whether the driver of the stolen vehicle was known to police.
The agency’s job will be to examine the conduct of RCMP officers.
“After gathering all the facts, we will examine the conduct of the RCMP, officers involved in this incident, and determine whether their actions were justified and lawful.”
It’s difficult to say just how many police vehicles may have been involved, he said.
“That will be one of the things we’ll look at and determine when police vehicles became involved in the pursuit and what their roles were.”
Investigators will speak to the RCMP officers, any other witnesses and police dispatchers.
And they also have a key piece of evidence to rely on — the RCMP vehicles involved were equipped with video recorders.
“We’ve secured that evidence so we have a very clear visual of what the police were looking at when they were involved in this situation,” Purvis said.
Only three of the 47 cases involving police that the agency has investigated involved pursuits.
The review could take months as investigators wait for results of tests to determine whether drugs or alcohol may have been factors.