Saskatoon

Austin Eaglechief death inquest: What you should know and what his family is seeking

Eaglechief, 22, died in 2017 during a high-speed police chase in Saskatoon. A coroner's inquest this week will probe the details of his final moments alive.

Eaglechief, 22, died in 2017 during a high-speed police chase in Saskatoon

Austin Eaglechief, 22, died in 2017 during a high-speed police chase in Saskatoon. A coroner's inquest this week will probe the details of his final moments alive. (Facebook)

Agatha Eaglechief says the sound of police sirens in Saskatoon makes her anxious.

"I'm highly agitated to know where it's coming from. Just to see what's happening," Agatha said. 

Agatha's 22-year-old son, Austin Eaglechief, died in a police chase on the night of June 19, 2017. 

His death will be the subject of a coroner's inquest this week at the Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench building. It's a fact-finding mission to prevent similar deaths, not a criminal proceeding.  

Agatha said she still has questions about the events surrounding Austin's death even though she's seen video taken from the police plane that tracked the stolen truck Austin is said to have driven that night.  

Agatha Eaglechief says her son Austin had recently left the Indian Posse gang. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

The Saskatoon Police Service has already reported a coroner's finding that Austin did not die from two gunshots fired during the incident by a Saskatoon police officer. But Eaglechief wants to know why police resorted to such force. 

Agatha is also lending her voice to the growing chorus of people calling on Saskatchewan to create a civilian-led body to investigate police-involved deaths or injuries. The Saskatchewan government recently said changes could be coming by the end of the year.

What we know

The existing account of the night of Austin's death comes almost entirely from police press releases issued at the time. 

Shortly after 9 p.m., police spotted a stolen truck they say was driven by Eaglechief with a 33-year-old man in the passenger seat. Police tried to stop them near Clearwater Place. 

The truck had been stolen with the keys left inside it. A gun and some ammunition were later found in the truck.  

Eyewitnesses said shots were fired on Clearwater Place after a stolen truck rammed a police cruiser. Police confirmed an officer fired two shots at the truck as Eaglechief sped away. (Dan Zakreski/CBC News)

Eaglechief rammed a police cruiser while leaving Clearwater Place, pushing the cop car about 30 metres off the cul-de-sac and into a driveway. An officer responded by firing two shots at the fleeing truck

Eaglechief reached speeds of up to 150 kilometres an hour before crashing into a second car while turning onto Airport Drive. He was pronounced dead at the crash site.   

Noel LaBrash was in the other car and not seriously hurt.

Police estimate Eaglechief was driving 150 kilometres an hour before he crashed into another car. He died at the scene. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

At a press conference, former Saskatoon police chief — and current chief coroner — Clive Weighill said the urgency to catch Eaglechief increased after the police cruiser was rammed. The female officer inside the cruiser suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Weighill also expressed frustration that keys had been left in the stolen truck.

"This is the fourth fatality we've had in two years now stemming from vehicles that have been stolen with keys in them," he said.

The stolen truck had its keys left inside it. Former Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill said that's the case in more than half of stolen vehicle cases. (CBC News)

Death not caused by gunshots

A week later, the Saskatoon Police Service reported results of an autopsy that concluded gunshots didn't cause his death 

In its broad contours, Eaglechief's death echoes that of another Indigenous man.

Jordan Lafond, 22, led police on a high-speed chase in October 2016 until he crashed and was ejected from a stolen truck. Police believed there were guns in the truck and it was not clear whether the impact of the crash caused his death.  

The Lafond inquest ended with a call to the provincial government to educate the public about the safe storage of guns — a crucial element also present in the death of Joshua Megeney, another young man whose death was the subject of  a recent coroner's inquest.

'A dream home for my son'

Agatha said she last saw Eaglechief about three hours before the police chase. He had cashed a cheque at Money Mart, given her some money and then went to a convenience store.

"I was actually going to be giving him his next medication before suppertime and then next thing you know he wasn't around," she said. 

Eaglechief, far left in the red cap, and his mother Agatha, in sunglasses, with family. (Agatha Eaglechief)

Eaglechief had been released from prison earlier in the year. He struggled with depression and anxiety after spending 23 hours a day in his cell, Agatha said. He recently left the Indian Posse gang where cocaine and methamphetamine use are common, she said. 

A six-person jury will hear the details of Eaglechief's final moments alive and make non-binding recommendations on how to prevent deaths like his.

Agatha will be represented by lawyer Eleanore Sunchild. Sunchild did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Asked what she wants to see out of the coroner's inquest process, Agatha said, "A dream home for my son" — a mental health treatment centre in Saskatoon for former inmates trying to make the transition back to society.

"They need support. Total support, not just 'OK, you're out now. Look after yourself. Do what you gotta do. Figure it out.' Most people don't even know how to function when they get out of jail."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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