Witnesses describe van plowing into pedestrians in Toronto
Published Monday, April 23, 2018 4:58PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 24, 2018 12:44PM EDT
WARNING: This story contains graphic details
A van plowed into pedestrians on a north Toronto sidewalk Monday afternoon, killing at least 10 people and injuring multiple others.
According to witnesses, the driver mounted the sidewalk on Yonge Street, just south of Finch Avenue, before eventually being apprehended by police south of Sheppard Avenue on Poyntz Avenue.
This is what they saw:
Steve Quaratesi said he was shopping on Yonge Street, and had just stopped to light a cigarette, when the van sped past him. That pause may have saved his life.
“If I hadn’t done that, I probably would have been in his path,” Quaratesi told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.
He watched as the van mounted the curb before veering into an intersection, hitting a man crossing the street.
“He got hit so hard, he was lying right in the middle of the road. I ran into the street to stop the cars from running over the guy. I just stayed with him for a little while. The poor guy, he had blood coming out of his mouth,” Quaratesi said.
The extent of the carnage became more obvious as he approached the intersection of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue.
“It started to get a lot louder. People were going crazy. They were doing CPR on people. There were a few bodies lying on the road, pools of blood. It was not a very good scene,” Quaratesi said. “It was very awful.”
‘AFTER I HEARD A SCREAM, I CHECKED OUTSIDE’
Nick Zullo had just sat down with his friends at a Starbucks for a lunchtime study session. He said he heard screams from inside the cafe before he ran outside.
“It was very chaotic,” he told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “Security guards were trying to get the situation under control because there were close to 150 people. Families with their children, students, couples, everyone was there.”
Zullo said the van had already torn a path of destruction down the street by the time he got a clear look at the vehicle. He and his friends were among the first to see the aftermath.
“We witnessed one person behind us pass away, and another three victims at Mel Lastman Square,” Zullo said. “I just couldn’t imagine something like this happening in Toronto.”
'THEIR BLOOD IS ALL OVER YONGE AND EMPRESS'
Ali Shaker was driving southbound on Yonge when he saw a white van ahead of him drive onto the sidewalk, just south of Finch. At first, he thought the driver had gone into cardiac arrest.
“He’s just hitting people, one by one going down -- oh man, it was a nightmare,” Shaker recalled to CP24. “I thought he had a heart attack or something, so I was trying to chase it down.”
Shaker soon reassessed the situation. The van, he said, appeared to be going as fast as 70 kilometres per hour as it continued to mow down pedestrians, leaving what Shaker described as a “gruesome” scene.
“I’ve never seen a scene like this in my life,” he said. “It was really bad out there. I couldn’t believe what I seen. All these people on the street getting hit one by one, post office box getting crumbled up on people. One person got dragged on. Their blood is all over Yonge and Empress. It’s really bad out there. I’m so shaky. I can’t believe this is happening. This is unbelievable.”
Despite trying to catch up with the driver, Shaker was unable to see inside the van, which had no windows along its side. Speaking to CP24, Shaker was still visibly disturbed by what he saw, and hopes the driver, who is now in police custody, is brought to justice.
‘HE WAS AIMING’
Kenneth Wu was driving out of a parking lot near Yonge and Finch when he saw a couple “running (for) their lives.” Then he saw a white van driving right towards him.
“The driver looked at me, he was trying to hit me, I backed out,” Wu told CP24. “As soon as I backed out, he turned left a little bit and hit an old lady… she flew up, landed and… he hit another guy and he just kept on driving.”
To Wu, the suspect appeared to be in control of his vehicle as he proceeded to drive onto the sidewalk, barreling south down Yonge and hitting more and more pedestrians.
“The guy was hitting people on purpose,” Wu claimed. “He was going to people like he was aiming.”
Wu said he can’t shake the image of “blood everywhere” and he regrets not doing something to stop the driver.
“He looked really angry,” Wu said. “But he also looked scared.”
'SOMEBODY WAS GETTING DRAGGED'
Graham Vartiamaki was travelling north on Yonge in a vehicle with a friend when the van hit several cars ahead of them near Mel Lastman Square before “purposely (getting) on the sidewalk.”
“I jumped out and started chasing him and he just kept driving down the sidewalk hitting people,” Vartiamaki, still visibly shaken, told CTV News from the scene.
“(It was) absolutely horrific, just watching people get thrown from in front of the van,” he said. “At one point, somebody was getting dragged as well.”
'THEY HAD STOPPED DOING CPR'
Alex Garner was out running south on Yonge’s west side when she decided to move to the east side of the street to be in the sun -- a decision that may have saved her life.
“As I crossed the street, I had my headphones in… but I could hear what sounded like someone was heavily braking their car,” Garner told CTV News. “And so I took my headphone out and saw, as I had crossed the street, a guy blow through the street on the sidewalk. And he was continuing on the west side of Yonge St. going southbound.”
Thinking that the driver’s brakes had malfunctioned, Garner ran after the van. Another person, she said, was also in pursuit.
“His car was all smashed up in the front -- it looked as though he had hit a pole,” she said. “Last I saw him was just south of Empress… That’s when I started hearing that he had hit people.”
Garner then ran north up Yonge St. where she saw three people receiving CPR near Mel Lastman Square.
“Maybe 10 minutes later or so, they had stopped doing CPR on two of those people,” she said. “They were still continuing to do CPR on one and they put that person into an ambulance.”
The incident, she said, has left her terrified.
“It makes me think of all those other news stories that you hear of people driving into a crowd with a van,” Garner said.
‘I JUST SAW BODIES ALL OVER THE SIDEWALK’
Carol Roberts was driving east towards the intersection of Yonge and Empress Ave. when she saw a woman sitting on the ground without her shoes.
“Then I looked and went, ‘Oh my God,’” Roberts told CTV News. “I saw one, then two, then three -- I just saw bodies all over the sidewalk area.”
The scene of carnage was hard to fathom, Roberts said.
“It was just so many bodies,” she explained. “I couldn’t understand what was causing it all... I couldn’t understand why I was seeing people so far apart.”
Had she arrived at the intersection just a few moments earlier, Roberts fears that she would have been a victim too.
Carlos Rojaas was sitting and talking on his phone near the gas station at Yonge and Poyntz when the van came speeding towards him.
“The guy is driving fast, right? Then he pulled aside, then I see the police car after him,” Rojaas told CTV News.
Rojaas thought it was a traffic stop until he saw that both the driver and police officer were in a tense standoff. The suspect appeared to have an object in his hand, while the officer had a gun drawn.
That’s when Rojaas ran out of harm’s way to watch the arrest from afar. The officer was able to get the suspect to drop whatever he was holding “without killing him.”
“So that was a great job. Congratulations to this guy. Wonderful cop.”
Police are asking for witnesses to call their investigative hotline at 416-808-8750 or anonymously at 1-800-222-8477. Those with video or photos of the incident are being urged to upload them to www.torontopolice.on.ca/yongefinch. For those seeking help processing what they’ve witnessed, Victim Services Toronto can be reached at 416-808-7066.