[Ed. note: Out of an abundance of public interest, we are taking the uncommon step of posting this story to our website ahead of its publication in our June 17 edition. Please also note that the story appearing in print may differ from that posted here, as more information comes to light over the coming days.]
[This story has been updated as of 11:15 a.m. Monday to reflect additional information provided late Sunday by the RCMP, and also corrects the speed reached during pursuit of the suspect, due to erroneous information that was provided to The Forum on Sunday.]
Leonard Gaetz thought he was just going out Saturday morning to retrieve some stolen property.
Unexpectedly, he also ended up leading police to a pair of suspects in the death of an RCMP officer at Wolseley earlier that day.
“I just wanted my truck back,” Gaetz, who farms about seven kilometres south of Odessa, told The Forum on Sunday.
The RCMP announced Saturday that Const. Shelby Patton, of the Indian Head detachment, was killed while on duty around 8 a.m. that day. Police said Patton had conducted a traffic stop in Wolseley around 7:50 a.m., in response to a truck that had been stolen from Manitoba. While outside his own vehicle, Patton was hit by the stolen truck and died at the scene shortly thereafter.
That was all information Gaetz says he didn’t have when he began pursuing two individuals he believed stole a truck from his yard around 8:30 a.m.
“I was out in the yard working back behind by my granaries,” he explained. “And we’ve got a shed on the west side of the road and our farm is on the east side of the road. So my truck is parked by the shed on the west side and all of a sudden I hear a vehicle drive by, and then I heard it come back into the yard. I knew (my son) Barret wasn’t out of the house yet so I thought I’ll go and see what these people want. Well by the time I got there with my side-by-side, I saw the truck was gone and I could see it going down the road, so I jumped in my other truck and followed them.”
“I thought it was kids and I just thought ‘They can’t have my truck. I need my truck.’”
With the suspects now driving separate stolen trucks, Gaetz said the chase briefly reached speeds of nearly 120 kilometres per hour as he pursued the thieves south for approximately 10 kilometres.
About five kilometres east of Francis, Gaetz says the suspects abandoned his truck and began travelling together once again in their original vehicle. Gaetz then retrieved his own stolen vehicle and called 911 while the suspects continued south. (In an update Sunday night, RCMP said that call was made at 8:38 a.m.)
That decision effectively ended the suspects’ flight as the road turned from gravel to mud, the result of heavy rains that swamped the local area a day earlier. According to police, the wanted individuals made it less than two kilometres further down the road before their vehicle became stuck. An adult male and adult female then fled on foot into a field, where they were arrested just before 10 a.m. with the help of multiple detachments and police dogs.
“I would like to express sincere appreciation to a member of the public who provided medical assistance to Constable Patton until emergency responders could arrive. Also, to farmers in the area who provided assistance to our responding police officers who arrested the suspects,” Rhonda Blackmore, the Saskatchewan RCMP’s commanding officer, said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
Gaetz says his best guess is that the suspects ditched the truck they’d stolen from his yard when they realized the local resident’s pursuit wasn’t ending any time soon.
“I think they thought I’d quit chasing once I got my truck back,” he said.
And he insists he would have. Still, Gaetz said his wife and daughter both gave him “a rough time” for his decision to take chase, due in part to similarities with the 1976 murders of two Sedley men who chased down a pair of thieves from the community’s annual fall supper.
“My wife says ‘That could have been you, was it worth it?,’” said Gaetz. “But I stayed my distance. I didn’t get close to those buggers … and the Lord did help out. He got them stuck.”
Gaetz also noted that police expressed gratitude afterward for his assistance, as he says they told him they had lost track of the suspects, and were also initially unaware the suspects had made an attempt to change vehicles.
“They said ‘If you wouldn’t have done that and they jumped in your truck, and they continued driving how long, where would have this went and where we would have found them? In Alberta or Manitoba or where?’ because they wouldn’t have known what truck to look for,” said Gaetz.
As for whether he would have reconsidered pursuing his truck had he known all the details ahead of time, Gaetz was non-committal.
“Maybe to a certain degree, but I was a long distance aways from them,” he said. “I wasn’t real close to them so I wasn’t concerned if they did have firearms or something. I was always half a mile behind them.”
The Indian Head and Montmartre detachments are responsible for policing the Highway 48 area from Vibank to Glenavon, along with numerous communities along Highway 1 north of the local area.
All flags at RCMP detachments across the country will be flown at half-mast until sunset on the day of Patton’s funeral, and RM of Francis reeve Rich Morley also offered his condolences Saturday to those who knew the slain officer.
“As much as anything, we’re so disheartened to hear of the incident that went down that cost the life of the RCMP member,” said Morley. “And we feel for all the RCMP officers trying to do their job and having to deal with all of this.”
Sunday night, RCMP announced that two people had been charged in connection with Patton’s death and were scheduled to make their first court appearances Monday morning in Regina.
Alphonse Stanley Traverse, 41, and Marlene Velma Louise Pagee, 42 — both of Winnipeg — are charged with manslaughter, failure to stop after an accident resulting in death, theft of a motor vehicle, possession of stolen property over $5,000, and breach of undertaking. Pagee was also charged with possession of a controlled substance.
The RCMP Major Crime Unit North will lead the ongoing investigation with the assistance of multiple RCMP detachments, the RCMP’s collision reconstruction and forensic identification services, along with numerous other supporting units and partner agencies.