NiagaraThisWeek Article: Kachkar urged to get mental health check

f9dd4b6b450ebe6b135ed7b1bee1 NiagaraThisWeek Article: Kachkar urged to get mental health check

On Monday, the court heard that Richard Kachkar seemed emotionally disconnected in the weeks before he stole a snowplow and killed a Toronto police sergeant, according a St. Catharines homeless shelter worker.

“It seemed that he did not process any of the things he experienced in his life,” Drew Toth, a resident services coach at Southridge Community Church emergency shelter, told Kachkar’s murder trial Monday.

Toth had a private 45-minute meeting with the unemployed man when he was a resident at the shelter in late 2010 and early 2011, he said.

“Some of the things he said struck me as a bit odd,” Toth testified.

In an emotionless monotone, with a half-smile, Kachkar talked about his crumbling marriage and using his children’s education fund to buy a storefront property in St. Catharines, Toth said.

Toth recommended he get a mental health assessment.

Kachkar, 46, has pleaded not guilty in Ontario Superior Court to dangerous driving and first-degree murder in the snowplow rampage and death of Sgt. Ryan Russell on Jan. 12, 2011.

There is no dispute Kachkar drove the snowplow; only his state of mind is in question.

Tom Sheridan, who befriended Kachkar at the St. Catharines shelter in the weeks before he killed Russell, said they both attended Bible study classes, where the defendant would often veer off topic.

Coach Canada bus driver Dhimitri Gushr, who regularly drove Kachkar to Buffalo in 2005 or 2006, said he drove him to Toronto days before the snowplow slaying, and he seemed less friendly than previously.

Last Friday, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Philip Klassen said he believed a form of “psychosis” or “high-functioning schizophrenia” directed the actions of Kachkar on the day of Russell’s death.

However, Crown attorney Christine McGoey spent her cross-examination of Klassen Friday suggesting that while Kachkar might suffer from mental illness, he knew what he was doing was wrong.

The jury in the first-degree murder trial has been instructed to take as a fact that Kachkar recklessly drove the snowplow through Toronto streets.

What is at issue is his state of mind, and whether he can be held criminally responsible.

“The heart of the question is what was the effect of the mental disorder at the time he killed Ryan Russell,” said McGoey, who noted that factors like Kachkar’s personality, life circumstances, the state of his personal relationships and his actions leading up to the incident must be considered as well.

“While (mental illness) was present it did not deprive Kachkar of driving at Russell and knowing it could kill him,” she argued.

The trial continues Thursday.

- Torstar News Service

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