London Community News
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: PaulEverest1
Although he made a number of serious threats over the years towards his estranged wife, himself and others, the family of Fred Preston did not call police until the morning of the day he killed OPP Const. Vu Pham.
Fred’s daughters Annette Preston and Cindy Desmarais testified on the second day of the coroner’s inquest into the March 8, 2010, shooting where Pham was killed by Fred who then fatally wounded by Pham's partner.
They said Fred’s threatening behaviour dated back to 2008; he had access to guns and they feared he might have been suffering from mental health problems.
Yet it wasn’t until he appeared to be making good on one of his threats that the police were finally informed he might pose a danger to others and himself.
On Monday (March 26), Barbara Preston, Fred’s estranged wife, testified that she had gone to a North Bay women’s shelter on March 5, 2010, after Fred had threatened to kill her and himself or harm someone she cared about if she did not return home.
She had left him in 2009 due to his controlling and abusive behaviour.
Barbara assumed the threat targeted her sister, Mary Lou Driscoll, and Annette told the inquest Tuesday (March 27) that her father had called her at Cindy’s Sundridge home the morning of the shooting to say he was at Driscoll’s house near Clinton.
Annette said her father had become increasingly agitated after learning in the days before the shooting that Barbara had been involved with another man for roughly 20 years during their 48-year marriage.
Throughout the weekend leading up to the shooting, Fred prodded her and Cindy for information about the affair and wanted to know their mother’s whereabouts.
The inquest was shown two letters Fred had written that weekend pledging his love for Barbara and asking her to come home.
When he asked Annette and Cindy to pass the letters along to their mother and tell her it was safe to return home from the shelter, they refused out of fear for Barbara’s safety.
Fred became very upset at their refusal to help him, the inquest heard, and the evening before the shooting he stormed out of the home he shared with Cindy in Sundridge.
The next morning, Annette received a phone call from Fred saying he was at Driscoll’s house.
Before hanging up, he told her that she and her sister had 15 minutes to tell Barbara where he was and to return to Sundridge, even though Annette attempted to persuade him to come home.
Cindy’s husband, Roger Desmarais, called 911 after the trio verified Fred was indeed at Driscoll’s home by tracing the call and Fred wouldn’t let them talk to Driscoll.
But Annette, who had experienced domestic violence herself, and Cindy, who has worked as a counsellor for women, said they did not call police prior to March 8, 2010, because they were overwhelmed by their father’s off-balance behaviour at the time.
They added that they had witnessed problems in their parents’ marriage for years that always seemed to work themselves out.
The sisters also told the inquest that they had interpreted their father’s threats as intimidation tactics to get Barbara to do his bidding.
The inquest heard that Fred had made similar threats against Barbara when she had gone to stay with Annette when she lived in Guelph in 2008.
Fred had become more unstable in the five years prior to the shooting, however, possibly due to health problems including a suspected small stroke in 2005 as well as diabetes and heart issues, Cindy and Annette said.
Cindy added she believed her father was suffering from anxiety and depression.
The sisters also told the inquest that financial difficulties, including the loss of his home, the breakdown of his marriage and learning about Barbara’s affair were very hard on Fred and may have contributed to his growing instability.
The inquest also heard about a number of clues suggesting Fred was really going to hurt someone.
For one, Annette and Cindy said he had asked them a day before the shooting if his life insurance policy was still active.
Secondly, the sisters were asked about their father’s collection of guns and they said at least once, at about the time of the incident in 2008, the family was forced to hide the keys to the cabinet where Fred kept his weapons in Cindy’s basement.
They agreed that he owned at least two firearms while a third rifle, suspected of being the weapon that killed Pham, belonged to Barbara and had been promised to Cindy’s son.
There was some confusion within the family as to where that rifle was in the days before the shooting.
Roger was the last witness to testify on the second day of the inquest and he described Fred as a talented craftsman.
“It’s incomprehensible to think those hands that built such beautiful things could do harm,” he said.
He told the inquest how he had taken Fred to North Bay the day before the shooting to get his father-in-law’s mind off things and to give Annette and Cindy some free time.
He had advised Fred that his threatening, agitated behaviour would land him in jail.
While in the city, they coincidentally came across Barbara at an intersection and Roger said she and Fred smiled at each other and waved.
Roger said he made the decision to call the police on the morning of March 8, 2010, after he and the sisters learned Fred was at Driscoll’s home and added that he had recommended that his father-in-law receive psychiatric attention.
But Roger testified he was positive Fred had not left Cindy’s house with a weapon the night before as the gun cabinet in the basement was locked and he hadn’t seen any weapons in Fred’s truck earlier in the day.
The inquest, which is being heard by five jurors, resumes Wednesday (March 28) and is expected to continue another 11 days.
Pham’s partner, Const. Dell Mercey, who shot Fred after he began firing at the two officers during a traffic stop in Huron County, is scheduled to testify on Friday (March 30).
Fred died three days after the shooting.