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Mountie tells inquest about firing 30 rounds at violent fugitive

An RCMP officer looks over the scene of a deadly shooting in Surrey, B.C., March 3, 2011. Saanich police are still investigating details of the shooting of Surrey resident Adam Brian Purdie, 28, who died near King George and Highway 10 in Surrey late Wednesday evening.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

An RCMP officer who fired 30 rounds at a suspect two years ago in Surrey gave emotional testimony about the incident to a coroner's inquest on Monday, marking the first time the public has heard a firsthand account of what happened in the violent final moments of Adam Purdie's life.

Mr. Purdie was initially pulled over on March 2, 2011, for having blacked-out tail lights, but fled after an officer noticed a partially concealed rifle in the back seat. In a subsequent shootout with Constable Peter Neily, Mr. Purdie was killed.

The inquest heard on Monday that after Mr. Purdie fled the traffic stop, RCMP officers had set up spike strips at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 56 Avenue. Mr. Purdie swerved to avoid the spikes, but collided with two civilian vehicles and pulled over at the side of the road.

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It was then that Constable Neily, knowing the suspect was considered armed, violent and possibly suicidal, rammed Mr. Purdie's car from behind to prevent escape.

But Constable Neily's RCMP cruiser wedged up against the side of Mr. Purdie's car until the vehicles were aligned. Constable Neily told the inquest that when he looked through his passenger's side window, he saw a rifle muzzle pointed directly at him and could hear Mr. Purdie loudly cursing him. He could not drive his car forward or backward, or open his door without placing himself in the line of fire.

"I had a feeling I've never had before, nor have I had it since," Constable Neily told the inquest. "I believed then that I was dead."

Constable Neily said he leaned back in his car seat, pulled out his pistol, and emptied the 15-bullet clip into Mr. Purdie's driver's side window. When the clip was empty and he saw the rifle was still aimed at his car, he loaded a new clip and started firing again.

"I wasn't counting. I was just trying to get that gun to stop what it was doing, stop it from pointing at me," Constable Neily said.

When asked by inquest counsel Rodrick Mackenzie about the effect of firing his weapon so many times from inside his car, Constable Neily said it caused "a pain I can't even begin to describe to you."

At times during his testimony, Constable Neily was on the verge of tears. He was also visibly rankled by some of the questions from Mr. Mackenzie, particularly about forensic evidence Mr. Mackenzie said would show Mr. Purdie had shot himself. That evidence is scheduled to be presented to the inquest on Tuesday.

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At the time of the fatal shootout, Mr. Purdie had been under a lifetime firearms ban due to an assault conviction in 2004. At the trial over that previous incident, which involved him pointing a gun at an ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, he told the court he had wanted police to shoot him to death.

The Saanich Police Department conducted an investigation of the 2011 shooting, and cleared Constable Neily of criminal wrongdoing. The investigation concluded that Constable Neily had taken necessary action to save his own life and the lives of other officers and civilians in the area.

The coroner's inquest is tasked with making recommendations to prevent future deaths in similar situations. Witnesses, including family members of Mr. Purdie, are scheduled to appear through Wednesday.

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