Infant, grandparents among 4 killed in Highway 401 crash

Ontario Provincial Police closed Highway 401 in both directions overnight. It has since fully reopened to traffic. (CBC - image credit)
Ontario Provincial Police closed Highway 401 in both directions overnight. It has since fully reopened to traffic. (CBC - image credit)

Two grandparents and their infant grandchild were among four people killed in a fiery crash east of Toronto on Monday after police pursued a liquor store robbery suspect driving the wrong way on Highway 401, Ontario's police watchdog says.

Monica Hudon, spokesperson for the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said the robbery suspect was also killed in the collision, which involved at least six vehicles.

All four people were pronounced dead at the scene on Highway 401 in Whitby, about 50 kilometres east of Toronto, Hudon said. Another person was taken to hospital with significant injuries, she added. Hudon said in an email later Tuesday that the person injured was believed to be in the cargo van that was being investigated by police.

The pursuit began at an LCBO location in nearby Clarington, when an off-duty officer reported an attempted theft to Durham Regional Police at around 7:50 p.m. ET.

The suspect got into a cargo van and responding officers followed them as they drove "erratically" on various streets, Hudon said. She said investigators are still working to identify the suspect and she did not provide any further information, such as their age or gender.

The suspect drove onto Highway 401 at Stevenson Road, headed westbound in the eastbound lanes, Hudon said.

A video circulating on X, formerly Twitter, shows what appears to be a rental van speeding through oncoming traffic with Durham police vehicles close behind. The video then cuts to the aftermath of a fiery crash at the side of the highway.

WATCH | Warning: This video contains explicit language: 

The collision occurred at around 8:10 p.m., Hudon said. She could not say whether anyone else was in the cargo van with the deceased robbery suspect.

A 60 year old, 55 year old and infant killed in the crash were travelling in the same vehicle, according to Hudon. She did not have any additional information about those individuals late Tuesday morning.

SIU to investigate if chase was appropriate

In another video captured from a different angle and posted to social media, a badly damaged transport truck can be seen wrecked against the concrete median at the collision scene.

Hudon said the SIU has assigned five investigators to the case, as well as one forensic specialist and one collision reconstructionist. Investigators are still trying to determine how many Durham police will be designated as subject and witness officers in the probe.

Whether it was appropriate for Durham police to pursue the cargo van as it drove the wrong way on the province's busiest highway will be part of the investigation, Hudon said.

"The investigation is in its very early stages and I am not in a position to speculate on what was or what was not appropriate," she told reporters.

WATCH | Ontario's police watchdog investigating fatal crash:

The SIU is an arms-length agency that investigates the conduct of police officers in incidents that may have resulted in death, serious injury or the discharge of a firearm.

According to the Ontario Community Safety and Policing Act, a police officer should not initiate a vehicle pursuit unless the officer has first determined whether the risk to public safety that may result from the pursuit is outweighed by the risk to public safety if the fleeing vehicle is not immediately apprehended or identified.

When are high-speed chases necessary? 

Steven Summerville, a former Toronto police officer and former Ontario Police College instructor, said the SIU will be looking into whether a vehicle pursuit was necessary in this case

"I can't speak to the evidence that the officers had or concerns [they] had," Summerville told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.

"Before anyone rushes to judge, I think we need to get all the facts. We need to be open minded to see whether the risks taken were reasonable at the time."

Summerville says investigators will also look at the seriousness of the offence involving the suspect, which in this case involved an alleged LCBO robbery.

He added that pursuits should stop once the vehicle or suspect is identified. However, it's unclear if Durham police identified the cargo van before it entered onto the highway.


Daniel Brown, a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer, said police in Ontario are required by law to weigh the risks to the public before engaging in a high speed chase.

"Car chases are the staple of action movies, but they're not supposed to happen in real life because of the risks vehicle pursuits pose to the public at large," he said in a phone interview. "And this law requires the police to disengage when the risks outweigh the rewards."

In the case of Monday's chase, given that the alleged crime was a liquor store robbery, Brown argued that police "put everyone in harm's way by engaging this particular pursuit on one of Canada's busiest highways.

"They simply either underestimated the risk to the public or failed to consider the risk to the public when they engaged in this high-speed chase," he said.

"It's a tragic situation and this is something that could have been entirely prevented. That's frustrating. It's devastating for the families."

WATCH | Premier Doug Ford comments on fatal crash:

Speaking at an unrelated news conference Tuesday morning, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the deadly collision was a tragedy.

"My heart goes out to the family, and my condolences go out to them. It's heart wrenching," Ford said.

In a post on X, Durham police said it is unable to comment on the incident as the SIU investigation is underway.

"The incident has had a profound impact on our community and our members," the post said.

"DRPS is fully cooperating with the SIU and as such are unable to make a public statement on this incident. At this time our thoughts are with those impacted by this tragedy."