Fatal incident stemmed from face mask dispute
By Chad Ingram
A 73-year-old man is dead and the Ontario Special Investigations Unit is investigating after a dispute that began when the man assaulted an employee at Easton's Valu-Mart in Minden on the morning of July 15, after the employee requested that he put on a face mask to enter the grocery store.
“What we're doing is giving out free masks, if you don't have one,” store owner Linda Easton told the Times. The health unit has mandated that face masks be worn inside businesses and indoor public spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Easton explained she has an employee who's responsible for greeting people at the store entrance, providing face masks to those without them, and sanitizing carts.
“The guy just didn't want to wear a mask,” Easton said. “ . . . He just started pounding on my employee.”
“My staff got together and tried to escort him out the door,” Easton said, explaining the police were called following the assault, the OPP receiving that call at 8:19 a.m.
“He was speeding away, and hit a truck, turning it sideways,” Easton said, adding the man also attempted to run down store employees with his vehicle, and crashed into the side of the store, before speeding off on Highway 35.
According to the SIU, an officer followed the man's vehicle for a short period of time, and then based on his licence plate number, officers then made their way to his residence on Indian Point Road, near Drag Lake.
“Outside the residence, there was an interaction with the man and two officers discharged their firearms,” reads a press release from the SIU. “The man was struck. He was transported to hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 11:47 a.m.”
On July 16, the SIU confirmed investigators had collected firearms, along with those of OPP officers, at the scene.
"The scene was searched yesterday, and those efforts will continue today," a press release reads. "From the scene, a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol were collected. The firearms of two police officers were also secured."
A post-mortem examination will be conducted on the morning of July 17, and the SIU is continuing to attempt to locate the man's next of kin.
“The OPP has notified the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and they have invoked their mandate,” reads a press release from the OPP that was sent out the evening of July 15. “As a result, the OPP will not be able to provide any further information.”
Easton thanked the OPP for their response to the call, and paid homage to her employees, as well as all grocery store workers.
“All I want to say, I want to give credit to my staff, who were very competent in handling the situation,” she said. “They were the real heroes in this situation. I want to give credit to all grocery store workers, who are faced with interactions every day with challenging people.”
She also noted the tragedy of the situation, and that a life had been lost.
Four investigators and two forensic investigators from the SIU have been assigned to the case. The SIU investigates incidents involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.
“The SIU is urging anyone who may have information about this investigation to contact the lead investigator at 1-800-787-8529,” reads a release from the agency. “The Unit is also urging anyone who may have any video evidence related to this incident to upload that video through the SIU website.”