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One of the most eagerly anticipated witnesses at the Ipperwash inquiry -- Ken Deane, the police sergeant who shot aboriginal activist Dudley George -- has been killed in a traffic accident.

Mr. Deane died early Saturday afternoon in a winter storm pile-up on Highway 401 near Prescott, in Eastern Ontario. A passenger, a 38-year-old man from Albuquerque, N.M., was extricated by the local fire department and was in stable condition at Brockville General Hospital.

Mr. Deane, 45, of Sudbury, was declared dead at the scene after his Ford Explorer was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer unit at around 1:15. News of his death came as a shock to participants at the Ipperwash inquiry, where Mr. Deane's testimony in the next few weeks was eagerly anticipated.

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"Dudley's family and I were stunned by the news," said lawyer Murray Klippenstein, who acts for the George estate.

Then a sergeant, Mr. Deane was one of a group of Ontario Provincial Police tactical rescue unit (TRU) snipers who provided cover when the riot squad was deployed against a group of unarmed aboriginals who had occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park. Mr. George was shot in the ensuing confrontation on the night of Sept. 6, 1995.

Mr. Deane testified at his trial in 1997 that he saw muzzle flashes, and then a man with a gun who took aim at police. But an officer who was standing near him testified that he saw no flashes and the man who was shot was holding a stick.

In finding Mr. Deane guilty, Mr. Justice Hugh Fraser rejected the notion that Mr. Deane had an "honest but mistaken belief" and found that Mr. George was unarmed when he was killed. He said Mr. Deane had concocted his evidence "in an ill-fated attempt to disguise the fact that an unarmed man had been shot."

Mr. Deane was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to serve two years less a day in the community, as well as 180 days of community service and no house arrest. He unsuccessfully appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court of Canada. He was ordered to resign from the force in January, 2002, after pleading guilty four months earlier to a charge of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act.

Mr. Klippenstein said it's not clear what Mr. Deane's answers would have been at the inquiry. "The evidence that the inquiry has brought out has changed the picture dramatically . . . it's extremely questionable that the TRU team should have been at the park at all."

But the lawyer said that the loss of Mr. Deane's evidence will not affect the inquiry's ability to get at the truth of what happened.

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Commission counsel Susan Vella agreed. The inquiry will still have the benefit of the sworn evidence Mr. Deane gave at the criminal trial, she said yesterday.

Mr. Deane, who was married with no children, is the third officer involved in the Ipperwash standoff to have been killed in a motor vehicle accident.

Inspector Bill Linton, who was the incident commander on the night police marched on the park, died in a car crash in 2000. Sergeant Margaret Eve, who attempted to negotiate with the occupiers, died on duty in 2000 on Highway 401, hit by a bank-robbery suspect.

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