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Bakema discounted alcohol impairment in Taman crash: officer

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East St. Paul police chief Harry Bakema seemed to quickly reject suspicion that an off-duty Winnipeg police officer may have been impaired during a deadly crash, a former colleague testified today.

Bakema, 60, is currently on trial for six criminal charges, including perjury, breach of trust and obstruction of justice, which stem from his role in the investigation of the 2005 death of Crystal Taman. The married mother of three was killed after her convertible was rear-ended by Derek Harvey-Zenk while she waited at a red light near Lagimodiere Boulevard and the Perimeter Highway. Harvey-Zenk was on his way home from a night of drinking with fellow officers.

Harvey-Zenk was originally charged with impaired driving causing death but later pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of dangerous driving causing death. He was given a conditional sentence under a joint agreement between Crown and defence lawyers -- a move the public widely panned.

A public inquiry was called into the case -- specifically on why the alcohol charges were not pursued -- and a damning 2008 report said Bakema prepared inaccurate police notes during his investigation into Taman's death and the investigation by the East St. Paul Police Service was "riddled with incompetence" and "conducted in bad faith."

Bakema’s actions surrounding the investigation are now under a legal microscope at his trial.

Ken Graham, a former East St. Paul officer, told court Tuesday he caught a strong aroma of booze from inside Harvey-Zenk’s empty vehicle following the deadly crash. But Bakema didn’t agree.

"He stuck his head in and said he couldn’t smell anything," said Graham. Bakema had personal contact with Harvey-Zenk at the scene and told Graham that "he could not smell any alcohol on him". Graham never dealt with Harvey-Zenk to make his own observations, court was told.

Rolland Fontaine, a paramedic who responded to the crash, told court on Monday he observed a "very noticeable" smell of alcohol on Harvey-Zenk at the scene.

Bakema also admitted to Graham that he had previously worked in the same Winnipeg police district as Harvey-Zenk before his move to East St. Paul.

"He said this is a mess. We have a mother, a wife, who’s been killed. He felt bad for the family and bad for the kids. And he said we have a Winnipeg police member who just screwed up his career," said Graham.

Bakema told Graham he was going to assign another veteran East St. Paul officer to take over the investigation because he didn’t want to create any perception of bias based on his personal history with Harvey-Zenk.

Under cross-examination, Graham said that Bakema was an honourable police officer who would not have deliberately sabotaged an investigation.

"Harry is not the type of guy to ask someone to change their notes," said Graham. But he described Bakema as having a very poor memory which seemed to be getting worse around the time of the fatality

"It was going downhill," he said.

Several witnesses have previously testified they observed Bakema and Harvey-Zenk speaking together at the crash scene around the same time firefighters were frantically working on the wreckage of Taman's crumpled car.


Updated on Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 3:05 PM CDT: Tweaks first sentence.

4:59 PM: updates with quotes, clarifies point on smell of alcohol in car

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