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Plow driver left cop to die: witnesses

Plow driver left cop to die: witnessesA snowplow is shown closing in on Sgt. Ryan Russell's police vehicle in this still photo taken from video from the cruiser front dashboard. The video was released Wednesday at the trial of trial of Richard Kachkar who has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and dangerous driving in Russell's death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO - The first fellow officer to find Sgt. Ryan Russell dying on a snowy street after he was mowed down by a snowplow told him to hold on as she cradled him and felt his fleeting last breaths.

There was blood everywhere and she couldn't find a pulse, Sgt. Sarah Andrews testified Wednesday.

She was one of several witnesses who testified at the trial of Richard Kachkar, 46, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and dangerous driving in the death of the 35-year-old Toronto police officer.

Witnesses said Russell tried in vain to stop the plow, backing away and firing shots at it in the seconds before it crashed into him.

The impact knocked Russell over and spun his body toward the centre of the plow and its blade struck him in the head fracturing his skull, court heard.

Witnesses called 911 and Andrews and her partner arrived first, racing over to a man lying face down on the ground, she said.

"I dropped to the ground and I tried to roll the body over," she said through tears. "I ended up rolling him on top of me and it was at that time I realized it was a police officer."

There was blood everywhere, she said.

"I put my right hand underneath his head and I could feel a hole in the back of his head," Andrews testified. "There was a lot of blood pouring out into my hand."

Russell wasn't conscious, but Andrews put her cheek just above his face and she could feel a slight warm air, she said.

"I took his left hand and I held it and I could feel his wedding ring and I just kept talking to him telling him that he had to fight and to hold on, help was coming," Andrews testified, as Russell's widow and other family members dabbed at their eyes in court.

"I kept asking for help on the radio and another officer finally came...He helped me loosen up his vest and I put my hand under his vest to see if I could fee his heart beating. He was warm, but I couldn't feel his heart beating."

She could no longer feel any breath on her cheek, she said. Russell was later pronounced dead in hospital.

The streets were nearly empty early that morning in mid-town Toronto, with only about half a dozen people on the well-travelled section Avenue Road, court heard. The sun hadn't yet come up and the streetlights illuminated the fresh blanket of snow on the ground in which Russell now lay, court heard.

The trial has already heard that Kachkar stole the plow at a Tim Hortons when two landscapers stopped for coffee around 5 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2011, then drove around Toronto for two hours, hitting several cars and shouting about the Taliban, Chinese technology and a microchip in his body.

The judge has told the jury that there will be no dispute that Kachkar was the person driving the plow, rather the case will centre around his mental state. The Crown alleges Kachkar meant to kill Russell.

Russell responded to calls about the errant snowplow and when he caught up to it, the vehicle did a U-turn and came toward his cruiser, court has heard. He reversed several metres then got out of the car.

The plow didn't swerve and didn't brake as it accelerated toward Russell, who was backing away and firing shots at the plow's windshield, witnesses testified.

All six lanes of Avenue Road were otherwise wide open, the witnesses testified, but the plow drove directly at the officer then continued on without slowing down.

"At that moment the plow is bearing down on the officer and I'm just holding my breath and hoping that this officer can get out of the way," said Vance Cooper, who was driving by at that moment. "(He's) driving straight, no steering, no braking, no apparent effort to change course."

Hamid Azarbani, an electrician on his way to work that morning, testified that he saw the plow hit Russell.

"I saw half of his body, almost, it was struggling on the ground and looks like (the plow) was dragging him about 15 feet," Azarbani said. "He was shaking and all of a sudden stopped."

Tow truck driver Herculano Pereira said under cross-examination that he thought that if the initial impact had spun Russell's body away from the plow instead of closer to its centre, he would have survived.

The trial, which began Monday, is expected to last two months.

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