Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for October 30, 2012

Inquest hears of officers’ fatal foray in boat

The coroner’s inquest into the 2010 death of a Mayo RCMP officer began Monday in Whitehorse with local witnesses who saw the young officer swimming toward shore before disappearing beneath the waters of the Stewart River.

By Ashley Joannou on October 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm

photo

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Pictured Above: MICHAEL POTVIN

The coroner’s inquest into the 2010 death of a Mayo RCMP officer began Monday in Whitehorse with local witnesses who saw the young officer swimming toward shore before disappearing beneath the waters of the Stewart River.

Michael Potvin, 26, went into the river on July 13, 2010 when the police boat he and another officer were in capsized.

His body was found more than two weeks later.

Many of the first people to come to the officers’ aid were eating dinner at the local café when the boat capsized.

Joanne Buyck was eating with her son, Jeremy Germaine, and partner David Lucas when local resident Jimmy Simon came in yelling for help.

“He said, ‘the boat flipped, the cops are in the water; I need your help,’” Germaine said.

Simon, Germaine and a third man, Benny Moses, ran to help while Buyck and Lucas followed moments later.

Buyck said she left the café and stood on top of the dike which runs parallel to the water.

From her vantage point, she saw Potvin swimming toward shore while a second officer — Cpl. Brent Chapman — clung to the side of the overturned boat.

In the meantime, the group of men found a boat that had been beached nearby and put it in the water.

Without paddles, the men used long sticks to try to manoeuvre the flat-bottom, 18- to 20-foot boat which had a motor but no keys toward the officers.

Buyck told the inquest Potvin was “swimming strongly” and that she “thought ‘wow, he’s going to make it to shore.’”

Both Germaine and Simon agreed the officer did not appear to be in need of any help.

Simon testified that Potvin was about 20 to 30 feet from shore the last time he saw him.

Rescuers were more concerned about Chapman, fearing the current would pull him into more treacherous parts of water on the other side of the river, Simon said.

Standing near Buyck on the dike, Lucas testified he heard Potvin call out he’d make it and to “go save my partner.”

But Potvin never got to shore.

“He’s swimming, then his arms go straight up and he goes straight down,” Buyck said.

“He didn’t come back up.”

Buyck called the Whitehorse RCMP detachment asking them to contact someone for help.

When the local rescuers got Chapman into the boat, they collided with a sandbar.

They were able to run along the sand until they reached the shore with the cold, wet and “shaken-up” officer, Germaine said.

Simon, who grew up in Mayo, told the inquest the water in the Stewart River can be deceiving.

“It looks really calm but it will pull you right under,” he said.

Screams from the gathered crowd alerted the rescuers that the young officer had not in fact made it to shore.

The shoreline and the water were searched in vain until early in the morning and for many days afterward.

Potvin’s body was eventually found nearly 60 kilometres downstream.

After the eyewitness testimony, the six-person jury began hearing about the history of the boat Potvin was riding in.

Const. Andreas Seidemann testified he used the boat while off duty about a dozen times for fishing and hunting trips in the year before Potvin died.

When the boat arrived at the detachment in May 2009, it did not have a radio. The bilge pump to remove excess water was not working, and neither were many of the gauges, including the fuel gauge, he said.

There was “always a little water in the back of the boat,” Seidemann said.

The problems had not been fixed when, on one hunting trip on Mayo Lake in October 2009, the motor stalled at least 10 times, Seidemann said.

Each time the boat stopped moving, water would slosh over the back.

The officer said the vessel was “on the threshold of going in the water.”

When Seidemann and his partner were able to get the boat back to Mayo, Seidemann said he told the other officers what had happened, but that no documentation was filled out.

He said he never felt unsafe in the boat until that day in October.

Seidemann said he had never been trained to use this boat, though he added he grew up around boats.

He also admitted to never wearing a lifejacket.

While being questioned by coroner’s counsel Lee Kirkpatrick, Seidemann said he had never seen a number of documents, including the RCMP vessel log, trip log and maintenance log for boats.

Seidemann said that while taking a training course with Potvin, he told his fellow officer about his history with the boat.

The inquest is scheduled to last until Friday. Territorial court judge Karen Ruddy is acting as the coroner.

When the testimony is complete, the jury will be asked to answer some basic questions about how Potvin died.

It will also be given the option of providing recommendations for how to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Along with lawyers for the RCMP and coroner, Potvin’s father, Mark, also has standing and can question witnesses.

The late officer was originally from eastern Ontario.

CommentsAdd a comment

Just Say'in

Oct 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Why are these guys out fishing and hunting with Government equipment anyway? No Life Jacket No operators license no personal responsibility. Hmmmm

Bugs

Oct 31, 2012 at 10:15 pm

The practice of using government equipment for recreational purposes by off duty employees, has been going on for years. This is obviously a non taxable perk of the job. It shouldn’t happen; are these hours of use logged into the maintenance requirements? Pretty difficult to list the hours and problems encountered in a formal report when the use is informal. Why doesn’t the government come clean and simply buy a boat or whatever for employee use and have it listed/taxed as part of employee benefits?

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