Domestic Violence in Saanich

It was about 3:30 pm on September 10, 1971.
I was about to finish day shift. It had been a quiet day but I had some paperwork to finish off. I had been working as a ‘one man’ car, the East Car and had just pulled into the back of the station. John Jackson, from the 4-12 shift, came running out of the door and jumped in with me. John was just beginning afternoon shift. “We have an emergency call, a fight, on Tolmie Avenue! Sounds pretty bad!” He yelled. We headed off “code 3”. As we went we received details on our radio. Tolmie Avenue is the border between Saanich and Victoria and really quite a short distance from the Saanich Station. The call was at a two story house on Tolmie and Blanshard (840 Tolmie Ave.). As we pulled up we were told there was a fight and a knife was involved. We were told that someone had been killed. We arrived at the same time as the dayshift Centre car, Constables Blaney and Fahey at 3:34 pm. We made our way up the front steps and carefully opened the front door.

The first thing we saw was a young man lying on the hallway floor. He was lying in a pool of blood. I have never seen so much blood. He certainly was not dead. He was on his back and he was gasping. Alive but bleeding badly and choking on blood. He was at the foot of the stairs to the second floor.

We had a seriously wounded victim and a man with a knife in the house. But we did not know where. John and Constable Blaney went carefully upstairs having climbed over the victim and me, Constable Fahey also climbed over our victim (having great difficulty because the floor was so slippery with blood) to check the ground floor, while I remained with the victim blocking exit from the main floor while trying to save his life. I was lucky to be a trained paramedic (to the limited standard of those days) but I had no equipment (we went in to deal with a fight). I tried to clear his airway. I tried to stop the bleeding but it soon became obvious that there were several deep wounds that penetrated the chest. It seemed like hours but was actually only a couple of minutes before our Sergeant and at least one Victoria City Police unit arrived. Cooperation with Victoria City Police was always good and we were pleased to have them there.
The Saanich Fire Department Ambulance was ‘staging’ about a block away. (Staging refers to waiting close by until cleared by the police that it is safe to move in).
Jackson and Blaney had found the attacker on the upper floor and had held him at gun point. Cst. Fahey, having cleared the ground floor, which was the apartment of the landlord, his wife and young family, came beside me to find out what he could do. I sent him back to his car to radio for the ambulance to come in and to bring me a first aid kit. (In the 1970’s we did not have portable radios or cell phones).

He was back at a run dropped the first aid kit then did what he could to assist me. The attacker had been disarmed and handcuffed. He was still being held upstairs. The house was secure and safe for the ambulance to come in. The detectives had been called. Still our victim lay in the hallway bleeding. There was no way I could stop the bleeding. Blood was seeping everywhere.

It was at that moment that the Saanich Firefighter/paramedics arrived.

Firefighter/paramedics Shaw and Hughes skillfully ministered to our dying victim. He was loaded and rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital. The rush to St. Joseph’s Hospital was quite a ride. A Victoria City Police motorcycle officer led the procession, with Victoria City Police dispatchers blocking all the traffic lights to 4 way red as we progressed through the city. Then the Saanich Fire Ambulance. I followed behind the ambulance in my marked car. The victim was pronounced dead by the Emergency Physician at 3:45 pm. Those 15 minutes between receiving the call and pronouncing of death seemed to last 15 hours.

With the victim removed, the attacker was then removed to cells and the house turned over to detectives and ‘ident’. John had remained on site to protect it. I then returned to the office. I remember working on paper work until about 9:30 pm.

Next day was a normal day.

On September 12th at 1:30pm I attended the postmortem at St. Joseph’s Hospital (as one of the attending officers and as an officer for the Coroner). Dr. Hay the pathologist found the wounds from the carving knife had penetrated about 4.75” – five times. The victim had little chance of survival. The resulting bleeding had not only blocked his airway, but caused his lungs to collapse under the pressure of blood in the cavity. Dr William Hay later testified that the wound ‘left the victim with a life expectancy of 10 minutes at the outside’. He went on to say it would not have mattered if the victim had been stabbed on the operating table there was no chance of survival. Seeing this young man, about my age at the time, in apparent good health, on a slab, being cut up was worse than any of the other dozen or so postmortems I had had to witness. It was shocking to see how much damage knife wounds could do.

Morris Alexander Sutton, 26 years, was charged with Non-Capital Murder.

On January 25th 1972 a B.C. Supreme Court Jury found Morris Alexander Sutton guilty of a reduced charge of Manslaughter, of Donald Lynn Williams with whom he had lived in a relationship for about two years.

On September 15th the Victoria Colonist carried a headline, “Ambulance Delay Attacked” Reporters alleged that a Private Ambulance under contract with the City of Victoria (Fire Department) was turned away. While it was true that the Private Ambulance was turned away, it was turned away because it was not needed as the Saanich ambulance was moving in from it’s staging point. The reporters, looking for trouble, interviewed the private ambulance operator who refused comment. The Victoria City, Chief of Police, John Gregory, was quoted as pointing out that there was good cooperation between the departments and that the two ambulances were within about a block of each other and could clearly see each other.

In 1974 the Government of BC established the Emergency Health Services to become B.C. Ambulance, a very good thing. This incident was (incorrectly) used at least by the media, as an example of why we needed a provincial ambulance service, to eliminate boundaries and to provide a professional and high standard ambulance service across the province.

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