Two parents who were outside a high school across from where Phonesay Chanthachack was killed told a coroner's inquest in Hamilton that they saw the police officer who shot the 27-year-old man, but they didn't see him hanging from the hood of the stolen van the man was driving on Feb. 13, 2012.
Sylvia Peternel and Budimir Stefanovic were sitting in their respective vehicles at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School across from 15 Albright Rd. when Hamilton police Const. Ryan Tocher shot Chanthachack twice as the man tried to leave a parking lot in the stolen vehicle.
Peternel and Stefanovic said Monday they heard gunshots and saw a confrontation. But they couldn't confirm Tocher's testimony earlier in the inquest that he was hanging from the hood of the van as Chanthachack lurched the vehicle forward, leaving him with no choice but to shoot.
Monday marked the fifth day of the inquest into the shooting death of Chanthachack, who faced multiple theft-related charges.
Tocher fired the fatal shots but was cleared of any wrongdoing in a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigation last year.
After listening to more than a week of testimony, the five-member coroner's jury could make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.
Chanthachack was leaving the parking lot in the van when Tocher, Sgt. Mark Petkoff and two other constables, Denise Leonard and Ryan Howard, positioned themselves to stop it. The members of Hamilton Police Service's break and enter, theft and robbery (BEAR) unit were wearing plainclothes and driving unmarked vehicles.
Man shot in wrist and chest
Peternel had just left a meeting at Bishop Ryan Catholic school when she heard the shots, and then saw Tocher standing with his arm outstretched at shoulder height, aiming a gun at the van.
She didn't hear Tocher yell "police!" But her windows were up, she said.
At one point, she was asked by the inquest lawyer: "Did you see the person with the gun at any point have any contact with the cream van, touch the cream van in any way?"
She answered, "No."
Stefanovic was sitting in the car, discussing the meeting he just finished at the school, when he heard the shots and then saw Tocher with his arm outstretched.
Tocher shot Chanthachack twice — once in the wrist and once in the chest. Chanthachack pulled out of the driveway and crashed into a pole down the street.
The SIU used fingerprint powder to try to determine whether Tocher had been on the hood, forensic investigator David Klodt said Monday.
The powder can pick up slightly soiled gloves or clothing, Klodt said. It can also reveal other matter, such as slush from the street.
Fingerprint powder on the hood
Powder traces showed "smudges" across the hood of the vehicle. There was also a glove print on the right side of the van's hood, Klodt said.
The jury also heard Monday that the first bullet likely hit Chanthachack's right wrist when his arm was outstretched. Dr. John Fernandes, a forensic pathologist who did the autopsy, said the fatal bullet entered Chanthachack's back and travelled to the front of his chest.
He could have been crouching over a steering wheel at the time, Fernandes said.
A toxicology report showed that Chanthachack had trace amounts of Oxycodone, marijuana and cocaine in his blood.
Tocher has been involved in other controversial incidents.
He was charged but found not guilty in the beating of Po La Hay during a botched drug raid in May 2010. He was also cleared in 2007 after the shooting death of Cambodian refugee Soun Saing, who assaulted the owner of a pool hall.
Lawyers representing Chanthachack's partner, the Chanthachack family, police Chief Glenn De Caire and the four officers at the scene are also participating in the inquest, which is expected to conclude this week.