Inquest ensures Pham is 'known as the hero that he was': wife
London Community News
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
After bravely reliving the events that took her husband from her two years ago, the wife of OPP Const. Vu Pham said the coroner’s inquest into her husband’s death has helped her heal.
“I think that everyone knows now that nothing was done wrong, there were no mistakes. That’s important to me,” said Heather Pham. “He’s known as the hero that he was, along with (Const.) Dell (Mercey.) The public knows that now.”
Heather attended all 13 days of the inquest that also looked into the death of the man who fatally shot her husband, 70-year-old Fred Preston of Sundridge, a small community near North Bay.
Pham, 37, and Mercey, Pham’s partner, were dispatched to the home of Preston’s sister-in-law on the morning of March 8, 2010. Preston’s family had called 911 that morning after Preston had phoned them from the sister-in-law’s home near Walton. Just days before he had threatened to harm her.
When Preston learned his estranged wife Barbara, who had left him in 2009, had engaged in an affair for roughly 20 of the 48 years they were married, Preston confronted her and told Barbara he would kill her, himself or harm her sister to make Barbara feel the pain he had endured due to her infidelity.
Although Pham and Mercey missed Preston at the sister-in-law’s home, Pham spotted his white pick-up truck on North Line road and pulled him over.
Preston jumped from his truck, grabbed a rifle from its cab and fired at Pham, who died later that day from a gunshot wound.
Mercey then engaged in a firefight with Preston and ended up hitting him six times.
Preston died three days later from pneumonia caused by gunshot wounds.
Along with the shooting incident, the inquest explored risks of lethal violence associated to domestic violence situations, as well as how such risks are communicated to police.
On Friday (April 13), the five-person jury hearing the inquest brought forth 15 recommendations directed towards the OPP, the provincial Transportation and Community Safety and Correctional Services ministries and the Ontario Womens’ Directorate.
It is hoped the recommendations will prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.
1. (Directed towards the Ontario Transportation Ministry) Conduct a highly visible public information campaign to strongly encourage motorists and passengers to remain in their vehicles upon being stopped by police in a traffic stop.
2. (Directed towards the Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Ministry) Amend the Communications/Dispatch Checklist-Domestic Violence in order to ensure that current information regarding imminent risk factors from the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (“DVDRC”) associated with domestic violence/domestic homicide is included.
3. (Directed towards the OPP) Ensure that the Communications/Dispatch Checklist-Domestic Violence is posted at each communications operator’s console.
4. Ensure domestic violence risk factor training is incorporated into existing training for all communications operators and (is) reviewed/signed off annually.
5. Ensure OPP Domestic Violence policy reflects the current findings and recommendations on an annual basis concerning risk factors correlated with domestic homicide as assessed by the DVDRC.
6. Use existing training processes to incorporate the domestic homicide risk factors as assessed by the DVDRC with a view to enhancing officer safety in responding to calls with a domestic violence context.
7. Ensure that OPP Domestic Violence Occurrence Policy 2.14 is redrafted to explicitly include threats to third parties within the definition of a “domestic violence occurrence” and ensure that communications operators are familiarized with the categorization of incoming domestic violence calls appropriately in accordance with this policy. This policy will include a firearms check on a spouse.
8. Introduce a pilot project to include “real time Intergraph Computer Assisted Dispatch (ICAD) information on OPP mobile work stations. At conclusion of project ensure field officer input is included.
9. Review current firearms training with a view to include an instinctive shooting component.
10. (Directed towards the Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Ministry) Adopt or develop a standardized risk assessment/structured interview for intake processes for all interval and transition houses in Ontario offering services to abused women.
11. Ensure domestic violence training is given to all full and part-time staff at interval and transition houses in Ontario.
12. Amend policy for interval and transition houses in Ontario… to release information to police in any instance of a threat to an individual. This would include any family member of the client, spouse, shelter employees, friends, or any other groups associated with the client.
13. All interval and transition houses in Ontario … are strongly encouraged to share best-practices.
14. (Directed towards the Ontario Women’s Directorate) Continue to support and fund public education about domestic violence risks, including Public Service Announcements (PSA) with the intent of directing persons at risk to appropriate sources of help. An example of PSAs would be the elder abuse pieces.
15. Research and investigate barriers which prevent non-victim members from reporting domestic abuse within families.
“I think they’re all good recommendations,” Heather said. “They’re beneficial. I respect what the jury came back with. I’m a little bit surprised the remain-in-your-vehicle legislation wasn’t explored further. I think that the public campaign is a good idea though.”
Coroner’s counsel Mark Poland had suggested to the jury that current law be amended to make it an offence for someone pulled over by police to exit their vehicle.
He said he thought the recommendations were appropriate and said a public education campaign for staying in vehicle during a traffic stop is a “positive thing.”
The recommendations will now go to the Office of the Chief Coroner, Poland said, and will be “farmed out” towards the parties to which they are directed.
“I think the recommendations of the coroner’s inquests in Ontario have historically been treated very seriously by government agencies and I think there’s a good prospect that you’ll see many of these recommendations implemented.”
OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis called the recommendations “relevant and very thoughtful.”
“We’ll have a closer look at them internally to see what we can do and how we can implement them,” he said. “Some we can do immediately, for example the checklists on domestic violence at each communication operator’s console.”
Other recommendations on training and policy changes will take a little more time to review, but could be implemented “within a few weeks,” Lewis added.
Police training programs for this year are already established and any changes would come into effect for 2013.
When asked what she would say to Preston’s family, Heather said she “would give them my sincerest condolences.”
“As the Crown has stated, like myself, they didn’t ask for any of this. As the family members, you’re thrown into it. They no more like it than I do.”
Heather said that with the inquest completed, she’s looking forward to returning to a private life.
“It’s been a long and emotional three weeks. But I was well prepared. The OPP really prepared me well and I was supported throughout. There weren’t any major surprises although it was emotional and difficult,” she said. “I think the purpose was served. The public received the facts. There were no more misconceptions out there. I think that was an important function as well as the recommendations.
“I’m glad to go home.”