Winnipeg police Const. Justin Holz has been charged with impaired driving causing death and failure to remain at the scene after pedestrian Cody Severight was fatally struck by a vehicle on Tuesday.
Severight, 23, was crossing Main Street near Sutherland Avenue around 8 p.m. when he was hit, police said on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old Holz, who was off duty at the time, was located by police more than seven kilometres away, said Zane Tessler, civilian director of the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba.
The IIU, which looks into all serious incidents involving police officers in Manitoba, whether occurring on or off duty, is leading the investigation.
Holz has been released from custody on a promise to appear in court on Nov. 22.
Holz is an eight-year member of the Winnipeg police and assigned as a criminal investigator, said Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth. He has been placed on administrative leave with pay.
“I want to send my thoughts and condolences to the victim’s family, the Severight family,” Smyth said.
“This is an unexpected tragedy and this officer will be held accountable for his actions.”
Smyth couldn’t give many details about the investigation now that it is IIU’s responsibility, but he said the officer had been working the day shift and would have got off work around 4:30 p.m. He said it’s not unusual for anyone to go for a drink after their work day.
The officer was arrested at Main Street and Red River Boulevard, near the city’s northern limit not long after the pedestrian was struck.
The police watchdog was notified about the crash around 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
Tessler said investigators were sent to four locations: the scene of the collision, the scene of the arrest, police headquarters in downtown Winnipeg, and the Health Sciences Centre, where Severight was pronounced dead on arrival.
Winnipeg police traffic collision investigators helped IIU with the breathalyzer and to process the scene, Smyth added. He could not say whether Holz had a blood test to determine alcohol levels.
Donnie Fizell was walking in the area and said he saw a car speeding down the street before hitting Severight.
“He must have flew 15 feet in the air and his head hit the curb,” he said.
“He must have been doing 80 [km/h] when he hit that poor boy.”
Family holds vigil
Severight’s family gathered for a vigil at the intersection where he died on Wednesday afternoon to light candles, grieve and wait for more answers about what happened.
“We just want to be together for each other at that place,” said Severight’s grandmother Gloria Lebold, who described her grandson as someone who made everyone laugh.
“He was a sweet little guy, always joking around, just being a little fun person.”
Severight had just rented his first apartment on nearby Annabella Street and recently started classes at the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre to obtain his Grade 12.
He and his girlfriend were expecting a baby soon.
Severight’s aunt, Nancy Gabriel, said police are supposed to be protecting people, “not killing people.”
“As soon as he struck him he should have stopped straight away, not just keep on driving,” she said.
“You know how that looks, that looks like, ‘Oh that’s just another native.’ He was a good guy.”
Now, his family is waiting for his body to be released so they can plan a funeral and then bury the young man beside his mom on Waywayseecappo First Nation, about 280 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
The IIU is asking witnesses and anyone else with information or video footage to contact the agency toll-free at 1-844-667-6060.
3rd IIU investigation launched this week
The hit and run was the third incident the police watchdog was notified of this week, which Tessler said is unusual.
Earlier on Tuesday, the police watchdog was called to probe a case in which an off-duty police officer allegedly hit a pedestrian on Portage Avenue.
The 46-year-old pedestrian was taken to hospital with serious injuries after the crash around 9:20 a.m.
The IIU is also investigating an allegation that officers in Winnipeg assaulted a woman on Monday while she was being taken to hospital in police custody.