Triple slaying scene shocks Canadian paramedics


By Mike McIntrye
Winnipeg Free Press
Copyright 2008 Winnipeg Free Press

WESTON, Ontario — Kevin Martin thought he was prepared for just about anything in his job as a paramedic — until he walked through the front door of a Weston-area home early Saturday. Six people had been gunned down, execution-style — three of them fatally.

The inside of 1398 Alexander Ave. was a "war zone," Martin told the Free Press Sunday.

It marked the city's worst multiple killing since 1996.

"This is the stuff you expect to read happening in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's not supposed to happen here. We're supposed to be a civilized society," Martin said.

What Martin and his colleagues saw inside the 700-square-foot bungalow was anything but civilized.

Five people who were bleeding profusely from gunshot wounds were found in various parts of the house. A sixth person who had also been shot had been taken to hospital by a friend.

Martin and his partner were the first paramedics on the scene.

"It was pandemonium when we arrived. There were people screaming on the front steps; there must have been 10 to 15. We had to push people aside just to get in," he said.

The first thing they saw upon entering was a police officer kneeling on the ground, performing CPR on a man who'd suffered obvious head trauma. The man had no pulse.

" 'There's more in the kitchen,' " Martin recalled hearing an officer yell.

While his partner tended to the first victim, Martin hurried to the kitchen, where he saw three others lying in a pool of blood.

One man had no pulse and two others slumped on top of him had critical injuries — one was shot in the face, one was shot in the neck.

"To walk into a house and see that much carnage... it's just unbelievable. Having one person with trauma is one thing, but to walk every 10 feet and find another victim is another," Martin said.

Just then, the fifth victim was found in a narrow hallway. He, too, had no pulse.

By now, more help had arrived. Five ambulances, three paramedic supervisors and three firetrucks had joined the approximately 12 police cruiser cars that had raced to the house.

"We've never seen anything like it," Tim Scharer, a paramedic for the past decade, told the Free Press Sunday.

"You walk in, look around and for a moment just say, 'Oh my God.' There were just so many bodies it was absolutely insane. But in the back of your mind you know you have to turn that off and get down to business," said Scharer, who is also vice-president of the union representing paramedics.

Scharer said he's surprised the two people found in the kitchen survived their wounds. "Its just pure luck. They should definitely be going to church to give thanks," he added.

Scharer said police, firefighters and paramedics furiously worked together to assess the victims and get them to hospital.

Meanwhile, at the Public Safety Building, the effort was being co-ordinated by a calm dispatcher who had already worked a 12-hour day shift — only to get called back in just after midnight because of staffing shortages.

Joined by four other colleagues in the control centre, the group's biggest challenge was managing resources.

Only 15 minutes earlier, a horrific two-car crash on Portage Avenue had left six people with various injuries. Five ambulances had been dispatched to that scene, where one man ultimately died, another was critically injured and four others suffered serious injuries.

There were also concerns about the ability of Winnipeg hospitals to take so many patients at once. Yet everyone "pulled up their bootstraps," Scharer said.

Both Martin and Scharer described a chaotic scene in taking victims away from the Alexander Avenue house — with the first paramedics out taking the last ambulance in to the hospital because of the traffic logjam outside the home. Rapid blood loss from all the victims made the situation critical.

"We can't really control bleeding. That needs immediate surgical intervention," Scharer said.

On Sunday, both men reflected on the growing street violence in Winnipeg.

"We're just amazed a person would willingly choose to take someone's life. It's beyond imaginable," Scharer said.

Martin fears the situation will get worse as gang members fight over drug profits.

"It's been a pressure cooker waiting to happen," he said.

"This wasn't a freak accident. This is something you can see happening again. And the question is how are we going to stop it?" Scharer added.

All told, 10 of the city's 13 ambulances were dispatched to the two calls.

Perhaps the most dramatic example was paramedic unit number 5. They were first on scene at the car crash and quickly transported the critically injured teen driver of the stolen SUV. Within moments of arriving at the Health Sciences Centre, they were being called out to the shooting.

"There was still blood in the ambulance. They didn't even have time to clean it. It was just a case of drop the patient off as quickly as possible and rush to get the next one," Scharer said.

His unit was the third to arrive on Alexander, across from Weston School, and he said the number of victims and emergency personel made it difficult to move inside the tiny home.

Scharer said there were safety concerns because the gunman was still on the loose. There were also concerns about contaminating the crime scene.

Alex Forrest, president of the firefighters union, told the Free Press one firefighter had "significant exposure" to blood while performing CPR on one of the shooting victims with no pulse.

"He had blood on his face, mouth and eyes," Forrest said. The firefighter had to get medical treatment because of concerns about blood-borne diseases.

Forrest noted the NDP government is passing legislation this spring that will allow emergency responders to legally demand a blood sample from patients to avoid the anxiety and waiting associated with such an encounter. Forrest said the fact several firefighters who were licenced paramedics also responded to the scene was a valuable asset as it freed up ambulances for transport.

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