|Emergency workers rappelled into the Niagara gorge on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 after a Niagara Regional Police officer and an unidentified man fell into the gorge. (Corey Larocque/QMI Agency)
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. - Ontario’s police watchdog is investigating after one man died and a Niagara Regional Police officer broke a leg after the two went over a stone wall into the Niagara Gorge late Tuesday afternoon.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which investigates cases of death and serious injury involving police, said the pair went into the gorge as the officer was chasing a man in the area of River Rd. between Otter and Eastwood streets shortly after 5 p.m. The man died of unspecified injuries in the gorge and efforts to retrieve the man’s body from the gorge were continuing into Tuesday evening, the SIU said.
The officer was airlifted to Hamilton General Hospital with a broken femur.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly what it is that happened. This is fairly early -- we’ll be gathering information these next several days as things unfold,” SIU spokesman Frank Phillips said Tuesday.
The men fell over the waist-high concrete wall that separates the sidewalk from the steep rocky cliffs of the gorge.
Investigators did not release the name of either man Tuesday night, and said they are still working to confirm the dead man’s identity and notify his family.
Residents who live nearby say they heard gunshots during the chase and fall, but neither Phillips nor the local police spokesman would confirm whether shots were fired.
Firefighters, paramedics and police were called to the scene, and members of the fire department used ropes to rappel down the steep cliffside to the area where the two victims were. A Niagara Helicopters pilot also flew into the gorge. Staff at the helicopter tour company frequently help the fire department by shuttling rescuers into the gorge.
Watson would not comment on reports given by residents who said they heard gunshots around the time the officer and man went over the wall. Police would also not comment on a report from an Otter St. man who said he saw an officer detain a man and a woman just minutes before.
“A cop talked to the guy. (The man) leaned against the police car,” said Greg Taylor, whose family was sitting down to supper when the incident happen. Taylor said he saw the officer talk to a man, let him have a cigarette.
“When he reached in the car to get something, (the man) took off running,” Taylor said.
Shortly afterward, the 911 call came in about the fall into the gorge.
One woman who lives in the area said her daughter had noticed police cruisers all afternoon on nearby Ontario Ave.
Another neighbour said she saw police chasing a man on foot before they went over the wall.
“All I know is the police officer was chasing a man and the police went over the wall,” Lora-lee Vince said. “I heard screaming. A police officer was in pursuit. I saw two people jumped over.”