A split decision made two years earlier still haunts one of the witnesses testifying in Michael Ellis’s second degree murder trial.
“It’s chilling in hindsight. At the time I didn’t realize the danger I put myself in … My children could have been orphaned,” said Michael James Scott, an onsite construction supervisor with the Ministry of Transportation, who chased after Ellis and two others as they allegedly led police on a wild, gun-shot punctuated trip from West Kelowna to the outer reaches of Vernon.
Scott got caught up in the chase in the early afternoon of July 31, 2012 when he was informed of a minivan blowing past a flagger a few kilometres away from his work site.
It didn’t take long for the van, believed to be carrying Ellis, Ashley Collins and Shawn Adam Wysynski, to reach his location and, as they passed, Scott decided to follow.
Scott told the court that Ellis and his crew had a head start, but traffic slowed their run down Westside Road and he was able to catch up as they stopped by a line of vehicles parked facing toward West Kelowna.
Three people got out of the van at that point, and the driver approached a red truck parked in the line.
“He opened up the door and pulled (the driver of the red truck) out,” Scott said, adding all three minivan occupants then busied themselves transferring items from the minivan to the red truck.
Falling papers momentarily took Scott’s attention away from the events on the road, but when he looked up again there was a heavy set man with a dark complexion and stubble standing in front of his truck, pointing a short barrelled gun at him.
The burly gunman, who Scott identified as Ellis, fired four times forcing Scott to duck below the dash.
When Scott looked up, they’d all filed into their new ride, speeding down Westside Road again.
He remained close behind, trailing around 100 to 150 meters back, while someone from within the truck continued to fire shots at him.
“I braked to put more distance between us,” he said, noting the second round of shots had more of a cracking sound compared to the thud of the initial round.
As the pursuit continued, the red truck maneuvered into a pullout and someone hopped out as it came to a rolling stop.
“I thought they were going to pull out and shoot more at me, and sure enough the driver took the shooting stance and continued to fire at me,” Scott said.
The gun used for the third round of shots appeared to have a longer barrel and the shooter used the truck for balance.
“I was quite a ways back, braking hard and putting the vehicle in reverse,” Scott said. “The tires were almost howling because I was braking so hard…. then flooring it in reverse.”
From start to finish that interaction took 15 to 20 seconds and, despite the risks he repeatedly faced, Scott kept shadowing the truck until he came across RCMP officers on Westside Road.
That’s when Scott decided to double back, and went to the work site where he first made contact with the minivan.
As he parked his car and started speaking with an RCMP officer, Scott learned that his truck had been punctured by a bullet and it was taken into evidence, and it seemed as though his role in the dangerous string of events had come to an end.
Three days later, however, Scott was back on site when one of his flaggers pulled up on his motorcycle and showed him the sawed off rifle in his saddle bag that he’d just found.
Scott said he called the police, who took the gun into evidence.
Two years later, the whole thing still seems strange.
“It’s been surreal, it’s hard to believe this whole thing happened,” he said, noting that he really thought that the rounds being fired at him were from non-lethal weapons or BB guns.
Scott is merely one among dozens that Crown Counsel Murray Kaay is illustrating to be put at risk from the actions of Ellis and his two cohorts. In many cases, their testimony indicates that they believed they were in a hair’s breadth of harm.
Ellis faces 22 charges, five of which are attempted murder. The trial is scheduled to continue on for several more weeks.
Collins, 21, and Wysynski 34, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in June and are expected to be sentenced in October.