‘Drive, do not stop, don’t look at your phone, just look ahead’ Portage-area mother recalls terror of being forced to drive stranger to Winnipeg
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A young mother who pulled over to check on the well-being of a stranger on the side of a rural road and was abducted — along with her two-year-old daughter in the back seat — tells the Free Press the ordeal was like a scene in a horror film.
“It doesn’t even quite feel real. It still feels like something out of a movie,” Bailee Scott said of the experience that began just outside of Portage la Prairie late Friday afternoon and ended safely in a parking lot near Polo Park 90 minutes later.
“Having him in my car was terrifying. Him just telling me to ‘drive, do not stop, don’t look at your phone, just look ahead.’ The whole situation was just very scary.”
The 25-year-old woman said she tried to humanize herself and hide her panic during the frightening 90-minute incident by sharing personal details with the erratic, intimidating passenger.
Scott said she and her two-year-old daughter were on the way to the post office in Portage la Prairie shortly after 5 p.m. Friday when she spotted an older-looking man who appeared to be in distress.
She did not know at the time that the individual in question was wanted by RCMP officers.
Michael Stephen Klimchuk fled police after a chase in Portage earlier Friday, RCMP announced during a Saturday news conference organized to seek the public’s assistance in locating the 62-year-old man from Winnipeg.
The local police detachment responded to a 4:30 p.m. call on Friday about a man in a hotel parking lot “acting erratically and possibly consuming drugs,” according to RCMP Cpl. Julie Courchaine.
Upon arrival, uniformed officers approached the man, who was inside a van that was later discovered to be stolen, and spoke to him briefly before the suspect reversed, rammed a police cruiser and accelerated in what appeared to be an effort to strike responding constables, Courchaine said.
Police reportedly pursued the van after the driver took off from the scene and began driving dangerously. The chase was called off when the individual began swerving into oncoming traffic on Highway 1, RCMP said.
Not long afterwards, Scott, who lives just outside Portage with her husband and their young child, spotted the suspect and his van parked near the highway.
He looked like he was in medical distress and waved at her, she said, noting she lowered her window slightly to see if he was OK.
“He was yelling something and was suddenly in the car, saying he needs a hospital, he’s having a heart attack, ‘f—-ing drive!’” Scott recalled.
She said she told him the child was in the back seat, but he ignored her, demanding she keep driving while uttering obscenities and trying to catch his breath.
Scott said amid the chaos, her daughter was watching a movie and was distracted, later falling asleep.
The man changed destinations, ordering her to drive to Winnipeg, saying he was on the run from people who wanted to kill him. She dialled 911 and he grabbed the phone.
Scott said she convinced him that she needed to let her husband know she was driving to Winnipeg; she was making a quick trip to the post office to pick up mail, and if she was gone for any length of time he’d report his family missing and the police would start looking for them.
“I would never randomly go to Winnipeg; it’s a planned-out thing,” she said, adding she turned down the phone’s volume so the man couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation.
When her husband asked if she was OK, Scott said she remained silent. She answered a followup question about whether he needed to call someone with “yep,” and offered an abrupt goodbye.
The stranger directed the woman to turn off her location, which she pretended to do, along with her phone, Scott said, adding she pressed an emergency alarm as she powered down the device.
Police confirmed Scott called 911 from just east of Portage at about 5:20 p.m. The line was disconnected, but operators could hear the voices of a man and woman.
Her husband also called 911. RCMP went to their residence and confirmed the mother and daughter were missing.
Officers discovered the van involved in the police chase had been abandoned nearby on North Drive.
The drive from Portage to Winnipeg, a 85-kilometre-long trip, typically takes an hour. Scott said Friday’s felt as though it spanned three.
“I tried speeding at one point to get him to wherever he wanted to go faster… and not only that, but also so that we could get pulled over,” she said.
Suspect’s history includes violence, theft, property crime
Michael Klimchuk has a lengthy criminal record spanning his adult life, including convictions for violence, theft and other property-related offences.
In recent years, Klimchuk has amassed several convictions for driving stolen cars and driving without a licence.
In June 2020, he was sentenced to 21 months in jail after a high-speed chase in a stolen car ended in a violent police takedown, during which Klimchuk’s arm was broken.
A judge at that sentencing hearing said he had little hope Klimchuk was going to change his ways.
“It’s difficult to have a lot of optimism that you are going to learn from this,” provincial court Judge Larry Allen said.
Klimchuk is facing 10 new offences after Friday’s events, including kidnapping, forcible confinement, abduction of a person under 14, assault with a weapon on a police officer, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and possession of stolen property worth more than $5,000.
— Dean Pritchard
“He noticed I was going fast and he says, ‘Is this your plan, to get us pulled over by the police?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, no, I just have a heavy foot — sorry, I’ll set my cruise (control).”
Scott said he demanded she set it to 118 km/h.
During the trip the man had various outbursts and his stories did not line up, she said. He disclosed his life was in danger because the owners of the van he abandoned wrongly accused him of stealing something from them and that he had run out of gas.
He noticed she put a hand on her stomach while driving over a bumpy section of the road, and she explained to him that she recently underwent serious surgery.
“It feels gross now that I gave him this very personal information, but at the time… I didn’t know if I was safe or not at all, so I was trying to hopefully make him see me as a mother (and) person,” she said.
The man demanded they find a cab when they arrived in the city. She said they drove around and slowed down outside various stops, including a grocery store, hospital and mall.
When they arrived at a Walmart in the Polo Park area, where there were several cabs, Scott said he abruptly jumped out of the car and she quickly sped off, at which point she began sobbing.
She immediately called her husband and 911 and found a Tim Hortons parking lot where she could stop, cry and process what had just happened. Around the same time, her daughter woke up and asked if she was OK.
RCMP said an Amber Alert for Scott and her daughter, which was being finalized, was called off around 6:30 p.m.
The pair waited for police to arrive, take statements and seize their car for inspection. Officers installed Scott’s car seat in a cruiser, drove them home and provided the family with information on victim resources.
She said she has felt edgy since Friday, both in public and while alone in her car, and urged others to be on high alert if they encounter a stranger who appears to need help.
Klimchuk was arrested in Winnipeg early Sunday. He was discovered hiding inside a residence in the Munroe East area. Police were called to the address in response to a report of a threat that did not directly involve the 62 year old, the Winnipeg Police Service said.
Updated on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 7:47 PM CST: Adds image of Bailee Scott and toddler