Police say the accident in Amqui, Que., was intentional and the victims were chosen at random
The driver of a pickup truck that crashed into a group of pedestrians in Amqui, Que., on Monday afternoon did so on purpose but randomly selected his victims, police said.
Provincial police have identified Steeve Gagnon, 38, of Amqui, as the driver.
Gagnon turned himself in, was arrested and has been charged with two counts of dangerous driving resulting in death, with more charges expected in the future, the Crown said.
Officers held Gagnon by the arm as they led him into the Amqui courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. He wore a gray t-shirt and glasses.
A group of Amqui residents gathered outside. They verbally abused and booed him as he made the short walk from a police car to the courthouse. He appeared to be grinning at the crowd, which outraged them. “He’s smiling,” one man remarked in disbelief.
In the courtroom, Gagnon made no plea. His next court appearance is on April 5. He remains in custody.
Gérald Charest (65) and Jean Lafrenière (73) were killed in the incident and nine others injured.
Claude Doiron, a spokesman for the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), the Quebec provincial police, said investigators believe Gagnon planned and committed the act intentionally but chose his victims at random. Officials are treating the incident as a murder investigation, Doiron said.
Gagnon is working with investigators, he added.
In 2006, Gagnon pleaded guilty to driving with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. He was fined $600.
Of the nine surviving victims, three suffered serious injuries and are in critical condition, and six others were being evaluated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to SQ.
Six victims, including a baby and a toddler, were airlifted to the casualty department at the Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus in Quebec City. Both are in stable condition, the CHU de Québec confirmed. Three adults remain in critical condition.
A victim is observed at Amqui Hospital.
“He crushed everyone who was on the sidewalk”
The Lower Saint-Lawence Health and Welfare Authority (CISSS) said it had deployed 10 mental health workers to help victims’ families.
Witnesses described how a pickup truck drove onto the sidewalk in front of the Captive microbrewery on Boulevard Saint-Benoît shortly after 3 p.m. Monday and accelerated toward pedestrians.
The road is part of Highway 132, the main route along the St. Lawrence and east around the Gaspé Peninsula. It is the main street of many small towns.
CLOCK | A man who narrowly escaped from a pickup truck describes what happened:
Ken Moreau, an Amqui resident, was walking on the sidewalk at the time and heard a loud noise behind him.
He turned and saw a pickup truck coming straight at him and accelerating, he said, as he sped down the sidewalk.
“I have seen everything. I was right in front of the first people to get hit,” he said.
Moreau managed to dive behind a lamppost, but others couldn’t react as quickly.
“I just had time to get to safety and he crushed everyone who was on the sidewalk,” he said. “People didn’t have time. The man directly in front of me didn’t stand a chance. We turned at the same time, both of us, and he was hit. I believe this man died.
Looking at the scene on Tuesday, Daniel Thériault, a local resident, recalled the two men killed.
Thériault has known Charest and Lafrenière for 30 years and says they are known for walking around the community of 6,000. He said it was a “nightmare” for the victims’ families.
“I’m very angry,” Thériault said. “There is a shock because we often walk on this boulevard.”
Although he was not at the scene of the accident, Thériault, a paramedic with 27 years of experience, said he received a call about an hour later informing him of the accident.
“We don’t often know this type of tragedy. It’s the first time,” Thériault said. “I know these people… It’s difficult to talk about him. You are so gentle, a good friend.”
He invited the city to attend Mass at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Saint-Benoît-Joseph-Labre church in Amqui to commemorate the victims. Until then, church bells rang daily at 3:10 p.m., the time when pedestrians were beaten.
“It is sad and shocking for our community,” said Kindé Cosme Arouko, a priest who was also at the scene on Tuesday. “We can offer moral support and spiritual support.”
Gilles Turmel, a spokesman for CISSS, confirmed that three of the injured have been discharged from Amqui hospital. He said that due to multiple casualties, a Code Orange was launched.
He added that psychological help was offered to Witnesses yesterday and will be available again today and in the coming weeks.
Major crime units across the province have dispatched several dozen police officers to investigate, according to SQ.
Highway 132 remains closed in both directions in Amqui this morning. A bypass has been set up for motorists.
Politicians were there on Tuesday. They offered assistance and urged those affected by the incident to seek help by dialing 811, the province’s health emergency number, and choosing option two.
“Anyone who witnessed this tragedy, or those who were affected or injured, do not hesitate to seek help,” said Sylvie Blanchette, Mayor of Amqui. “We’re all going to need it, so don’t hesitate.”
Quebec Public Safety Minister François Bonnardel described the incident as a rampage and compared it to the Laval incident last month, when police said a man deliberately drove a city bus into a daycare, killing two children.
Bonnardel warned against speculating about the mental state of the suspect in the Amqui incident, but also expressed frustration at how to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
“We can fix everything,” he said, “and tomorrow morning someone can decide to get on a truck and meet (people).”
At a news conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked the first responders who took care of the victims and said his thoughts were with the families in Amqui.
“This tragedy has devastated us across Quebec and Canada,” he said. “We will continue to be there to support this community in the very difficult days ahead.”
CLOCK | CBC coverage of suspect’s arrival at Amqui courthouse: