SIU clears London police officer whose cruiser hit motorized wheelchair

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A London police officer who hit a woman in a wheelchair with his cruiser, knocking her over and injuring her arm, will not be charged by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit.

SIU director Tony Loparco said that while the officer’s conduct couldn’t be excused, it was clear the officer was driving responsibly and just had a “momentary lack of attention.”

“The complainant clearly had the right-of-way,” said Loparco. “(But) there is no indication of dangerous or even careless driving in the moments preceding the collision.”

On the evening of Jan. 16, the officer was travelling south on Adelaide Street and turned right onto Dundas Street. At the same time, a 59-year-old woman in a motorized wheelchair was crossing the intersection and was struck by the cruiser, which knocked the wheelchair on its side. The woman suffered an arm injury and was taken to Victoria Hospital to be treated.

The SIU director’s report said investigators used video recording, forensics and witnesses to determine that it was dark and rainy when the collision occurred and that the woman’s wheelchair lacked lights or reflectors.

Jeff Preston, a local motivational speaker and disability advocate, said that people travelling in wheelchairs have a tough time navigating London roads.

“We’re sitting lower than most pedestrians so we’re not in a sight line,” said Preston.

He said that in winter, the sidewalks aren’t often cleared so people in wheelchairs are forced on the roads.

As for installing lights on wheelchairs, Preston said that not many people can afford to do so.

“The Ontario government doesn’t deem (the lights) to be necessary,” said Preston. “They’re seen as a luxury so programs won’t pay for them and they’re expensive.”

Preston said that a wheelchair being knocked over can cause serious injuries. For example, Preston is unable to brace his falls and suffered a concussion once due to his wheelchair tipping. He said his wheelchair weighs about 300 pounds.

“It’s not particularly safe out there,” said Preston.

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