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Owner of stolen snowplow haunted by officer's death

A day after he watched his stolen plow-truck lurch away on an ill-fated path up Parliament Street, Daniel Da Silva can't purge the memory or the guilt.

"I keep thinking about it," he said, a day after the truck ricocheted through downtown streets with a troubled man behind the wheel, eventually crushing and killing 35-year-old Toronto police Sergeant Ryan Russell. "I don't know what else I could have done to stop him."

As a portrait of the man who allegedly stole his truck began to crystallize on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Da Silva stood on the same slushy corner where it all started - Parliament and Cole Streets - reliving the moment when a blond man sprang from a Tim Hortons and leaped into his Chevy.

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Police have identified the man as 44-year-old Richard Kachkar.

Mr. Da Silva and his plowing partner were lining up for a coffee before 5 a.m. when they saw Mr. Kachkar, shoeless and erratic, dart for the vehicle.

"We chased right behind him," Mr. Da Silva said. "We were watching the truck. It wasn't like it was unattended. As he was closing the door, I was right on him."

Mr. Kachkar managed to put the truck in gear and accelerate north on Parliament Street, but Mr. Da Silva wasn't ready to give up his truck easily. He wedged his hand through the door as the vehicle picked up speed.

"I held onto the truck for a good 20 or 30 feet," he said. "I was trying to get him out, but he was smacking my hand off. I was trying to get him out. I was thinking 'I want this guy out of my truck. That's my truck!' "

The truck sped off, leaving a distraught Mr. Da Silva in its wake. Police arrived and Mr. Da Silva cringed as he heard radio chatter narrating the plow's terrorizing path through city streets - ramming cars, bashing a Ferrari dealership and striking Sgt. Russell around 6 a.m.

"We heard the officer on the radio say 'Officer down,' " Mr. Da Silva said. "My heart just sank."

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The lethal ride ended just after 7 a.m. when officers shot Mr. Kachkar. He remains in hospital. He faces one charge of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

For the past five years, Mr. Kachkar, whom police say had no fixed address, has been a recurring curiosity for shop owners on Geneva Street in St. Catharines.

In 2005, he purchased a tiny vacant commercial property that is smaller than most single-car garages.

Neighbours say he would often talk about his plans for the place - one minute it was a sandwich shop and the next it was going to be a coffee house - but most of the time, Mr. Kachkar just hung around outside the building on his bike. Besides a new door, the friendly and well-groomed man hardly touched the building, which cost him $29,500.

"You'd always wonder why the guy would buy the building, not live in it or do anything with it, and sit out front. He'd come in on his bicycle and just sit there," said Casey Rietveld, who works at a business across the street.

"I asked [Mr. Kachkar]what he was doing with it. He literally said he had no idea," Andrew Dempsey, who also works at a nearby business, said. "He thought maybe a pizza place, but he wasn't sure."

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By the time Mr. Dempsey started working for Chia Electronics early last year, Mr. Kachkar was a fixture in the area. He'd stop by every now and then and they'd talk about the work the electronics and security company was doing, the new LED lights they were putting in - but little about Mr. Kachkar's life.

According to cousin Jenny Kachkar, Mr. Kachkar grew up in an average, middle-class family in Edmonton with three sisters. "They were nice people," she said, though she says she'd lost touch with him after his family moved to Vancouver.

"I understand Richard was married, so I can't even imagine what his family is going through," she said.

Mr. Dempsey knew Mr. Kachkar as a West Coast transplant, someone who'd moved to Ontario after growing up in British Columbia and spent time living in the Toronto area. He talked about having a wife, but divulged little about her.

Although online records indicate a Richard Kachkar graduated from Welland's Centennial Secondary School in 1984, the Niagara Region board says it has no record of his attendance. His photo does not appear in the yearbook.

"He must have known something about tool and die design," Mr. Dempsey said, because Mr. Kachkar was a whiz on the shop's Autocad software.

And when Mr. Dempsey talked about his own children and the "trials and tribulations of teenagers," Mr. Kachkar nodded knowingly.

"Oh, I know," Mr. Dempsey recalled Mr. Kachkar saying. "My kids are grown now, but I remember what they were like at that time."

Mr. Kachkar's two children grew up and went to school in St. Catharines. His 19-year-old daughter, Ashley, went to Canadian Martyrs Elementary School and Holy Cross Secondary School. Friends of the children were trying to reach the family Thursday; one person said that Ashley would be "in shock" at the news of her father's arrest.

"A mother and her two children are devastated," said cousin Maher Kachkar in an e-mail message to The Globe.

Sam Chia, the electronics store's owner, said he last saw Mr. Kachkar a couple of weeks ago, passing by on foot. The two exchanged pleasantries, but that was all.

This week Mr. Kachkar's tiny slice of storefront was silent, the window blocked from the inside with green tarp and a Canadian flag. The brick facade was bare save for a weather-beaten, turquoise-painted wooden sign reading "Lorenz Belt."

The property abutting Mr. Kachkar's was boarded up; a white van parked in the backyard was covered in snow and had no licence plates.

What brought Mr. Kachkar from his St. Catharines haunt to Toronto is unclear, but two residents at the Queen Street shelter where he stayed the night before the rampage claimed he was distraught over a failed relationship.

Staff at the Good Shepherd Centre checked in the unfamiliar man shortly after 5:30 p.m. "It was the first night he'd ever stayed here," said Adrienne Urquhart, director of fundraising and public relations for the centre.

There were no disturbances at the shelter that night, Ms. Urquhart said.

She could not say when Mr. Kachkar left. Police are reviewing the shelter's security cameras.

Police Chief Bill Blair said investigators have also seized video from Sgt. Russell's police cruiser and interviewed several witnesses "who stepped forward to assist in our investigation. And we are grateful for their assistance."

The Special Investigations Unit, which probes cases of injury or death involving police, is investigating Mr. Kachkar's injuries. Another police officer sustained leg injuries in the takedown.

Sgt. Russell had been a police officer for 11 years. He was married with a two-year-old son.

With reports from Jill Mahoney, Stephanie Chambers, Arti Patel and Trevor Melanson

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National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

National reporter

Greg has been a reporter with The Globe since 2005. He has probed a wide variety of topics, including police malfeasance, corruption and international corporate bribery. He was written extensively about the Airbus affair, offshore tax evasion and, most recently, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his criminal ties. More

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