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Inquest opens into naked Taser death

A smiling Frank Frechette, centre, is surrounded by family in this image, which greeted members of the jury in the coroner’s inquest into his death. The three-day hearing opened Tuesday in Burnaby.  - Handout photo
A smiling Frank Frechette, centre, is surrounded by family in this image, which greeted members of the jury in the coroner’s inquest into his death. The three-day hearing opened Tuesday in Burnaby.
— image credit: Handout photo

A faded photo of a smiling Frank Jonathan Frechette surrounded by relatives greeted the three men and two women of the coroner’s inquest jury as they filed into a Burnaby hearing room Tuesday morning.

It was projected on the wall by the same system that would be used to display the shotgun Frechette used to rob a Langley bank on Sept. 30, 2008, the dye-stained money found in his home, the knife he stabbed himself with and the shattered second-storey window he jumped through, completely naked, after trying to scrub off the red dye left by the booby-trapped money packet.

Frechette died in an ambulance on the way to Langley Memorial Hospital after he was hit by a Taser during a standoff with police outside his 47A Avenue home in Langley City.

The inquest will rule on the cause of Frechette’s death.

It will not assign fault.

“This all started out with a bank robbery,” said Rodrick MacKenzie, inquest counsel.

RCMP Cpl. Lorna Dicks, who co-ordinated a police review of the incident, testified about the sequence of events that started with the holdup of a Royal Bank branch in Brookswood.

Frechette entered the bank armed with a shotgun, pushing a woman down as he entered and racked his weapon.

He ordered a teller to fill his duffel bag with 20s, 50s and 100s then left, unaware the cash had been booby-trapped with an exploding dye pack designed to mark the thief and render the money useless.

Eyewitness Nels Wetterstrom followed Frechette as he left the crime scene.

About half a block from the bank, Wetterstrom  saw the dye pack go off.

“The cloud just enveloped him,” Wetterstrom said.

“It was like a cartoon.”

Wetterstrom, driving his own vehicle, followed Frechette as the robber walked into a parking lot, then emerged a few minutes later in a white van.

Wetterstrom couldn’t see Frechette in the van, but had a hunch that turned out to be correct.

He followed the van to the house Frechette shared with Trina Toffan and her children.

Toffan testified that she had dropped Frechette off near the bank while she looked for a dental office.

She said she was surprised when he suddenly reappeared and jumped into the van, ordering her to go home.

“He did not look normal,” she said.

“He looked kind of freaky ... satanic.”

Back at the house, Frechette went into the second floor bathroom and she heard him run the water full blast.

While she was on the phone in the kitchen talking to a dental office, Frechette reappeared, naked, soaking wet and out of his mind.

He was pounding on his chest “like an ape”, she said, saying “I won’t go back,” over and over.

Then he started stabbing himself in the chest with a butcher knife from the cutlery drawer.

She said she didn’t know at the time that Frechette had spent time in jail before.

The blood-splattered Frechette told her he loved her, then he jumped through the second-storey living room glass window head-first.

“Like he was going off a diving board” is how Toffan described it.

He landed outside, about the time police, alerted by Wetterstrom, arrived.

Cpl. Greg Berezowski said the call came in as an armed robbery, with the suspect possessing a shotgun.

So Berezowski armed himself with his police-issue shotgun, only to be greeted by a badly-injured naked man.

“He had a large chest wound and he was bleeding ... a lot,” Berezowski testified.

The officers managed to get Frechette to lie down, but as Berezowski was going to apply handcuffs, Frechette got up and began to head back to the house.

“He turned toward me and asked me to shoot him,” Berezowski recalled.

“Of course, I’m not going to shoot an an unarmed, naked man.”

But Frechette couldn’t be allowed back in the house.

The officers didn’t know if he was the suspect, or victim, or if anyone else was in the house.

As Frechette reached the open door of the house, an officer behind Berezowski fired his Taser, applying an electrical shock through wire darts to Frechette’s back.

A forensic expert is expected to testify that there were traces of cocaine and heroin in Frechette’s blood.

Toffan said she never saw Frechette use illegal drugs, but she knew he was addicted to prescription painkillers.

Under questioning by RCMP lawyer Helen Park, Toffan denied she ever told the police that she and Frechette both used heroin that morning.

She said she only ever used heroin once, with Frechette, just to try it.

The proceedings were observed by Surrey resident Jody Pylypow, who used to be in a relationship with Frechette and had two daughters with him.

During a break, she told The Times that Frechette told her he was a former addict who had cleaned up before they got involved.

He relapsed and began using again while Pylypow was expecting one of their children.

Eventually he left Pylypow for Toffan, who Pylypow says was a home care worker who looked after Frechette after he was injured in a motorcycle accident.

She is attending the hearing because her oldest daughter is now eight and beginning to ask questions about her father, Pylypow said. The inquest is expected to last until Thursday.

 

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