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Smoke obscured vision, Victoria firefighter says in hearing into woman’s death

Testimony continues in public hearing examining police conduct in the death of a 43-year-old woman
Lisa Rauch died after a standoff with police that ended up with anti-riot ammunition being deployed. (Photo Courtesy Rauch Family)

When a group of police officers and firefighters burst into the Pandora Avenue apartment where Lisa Rauch had holed up, Thomas Faulkner from Victoria’s fire department led the way with a fire hose just behind a police officer with a shield.

“I could see maybe a couple of feet in front of me,” he said “It was just dark.”

Faulkner’s description of events was heard in sworn testimony at a public hearing into the use of police force in 2019 that resulted in Rauch’s death.

The hearing is being held at the request of Rauch’s family and follows an investigation by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner that cleared officer Ron Kirkwood of wrongdoing when he shot Rauch in the back of the head with an anti-riot weapon.

Faulker’s testimony came in day four of the three-week hearing, along with testimony from the attending fire captain and a police officer tasked with “lethal overwatch” at the scene.

The police officer testified that Rauch was put in handcuffs while unconscious, before CPR was done to try to resuscitate her.

Capt. Rich Sulsbury from Victoria’s fire department testified that the smoke was light enough to indicate the fire wasn’t too serious, but that if it was worse police wouldn’t have been able to go into the unit.

Faulkner gave a play-by-play of his actions as the first firefighter into the apartment.

When he got through the door he said he was met with smoke “thick enough to obscure my vision.”

He aimed his hose into the unit in an arcing fashion.

“Just up into the room, because I couldn’t see a target at that point, I couldn’t see fire,” he said.

Trying to stay behind the police shield — he was warned Rauch had a knife — Faulkner stood up to crane his neck and look for flames. He managed to see a fire across the room, where a couch was burning.

He had to spray over an object to put out the fire. That object turned out to be another couch, between him and the fire and facing away from him, though he said he couldn’t tell what it was at the time.

He also testified he did not see a person between him and the object.

After he sprayed the foot-tall flames and was fairly satisfied the fire was out, he retreated, as per the instructions from police.

As he was getting out of the unit, he heard three bangs. Officer Kirkwood had fired three shots from an Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) gun.

It had previously been established that the barrel-shaped ARWEN projectiles hit Rauch in the back of the head as she sat on a couch. She slumped off the seat and lost consciousness.

Rauch did not regain consciousness and would later die from brain injuries.

Faulkner could not remember the exact amount of time from when he put out the fire until the shots were fired, but did say the shots happened in rapid succession.

Const. Steven Reichert testified that when the team entered the unit, he heard an officer say to another something to the effect of “there she is’ or ‘she’s there” before the sound of the shots from the ARWEN.

Reichert was then involved in the effort to remove Rauch that began seconds later. He explained that during the extraction a stop was made on the way out to the courtyard where officers began CPR.

It was during this stop officers did an initial assessment on Rauch and put her in handcuffs.

“We placed her into handcuffs quickly just to secure her,” he said. “But our immediate priority was evacuating this individual down to a higher level of care which was on the outside of the building.”

After Thursday’s (April 18) testimony, there is a planned break until April 29. The hearing is scheduled to finish on May 10.

READ MORE: Day One: Hearing begins to review Victoria police officer’s actions in woman’s death

READ MORE: Day Two: Lead-up to woman’s death included drug use, tense standoff with Victoria police

READ MORE: Day Three: Victoria police officer questioned on force options in death of woman

About the Author: Mark Page

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