National Post

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Tuesday, October 19, 1999

Officers recount comrade's last breath
Christie Blatchford
National Post

Billy Hancox essentially bled to death in the arms of his brother officers.

It made absolutely no difference, in that he died anyway. But it also made all the difference, because it spoke to the preciousness of life, which by the sounds of it was the belief that had governed the way the young officer lived, and, ultimately, to the futile nobility that is police work.

Just as he had always treated the rounders of the street, with whom it was his job to deal, with an old-fashioned courtliness that was sometimes preposterous in the circumstances, so were the efforts of his fellows to save him extravagant and doomed. But they made them, and in this, they proved the truth of the notion that what goes around, comes around, and of the idea that the human animal may very well reap what he sows.

Toronto Police Detective-Constable Hancox was basically dead the moment Elaine Rose Cece, at the behest of her lover, Mary Barbara Taylor, slipped a large Laser brand butcher knife through the half-open window of his surveillance van and plunged it into his chest; the two women have admitted doing this, their criminal trial now thus reduced to a debate about what to call their offence, second-degree murder or manslaughter.

The blade, about eight inches long, tore through Det.-Const. Hancox' left lung, ripped the pulmonary artery and vein, and came to rest on his heart.

By the time his partner, Detective Steve Pattison, found him lying on his back by the van in the parking lot of a small strip mall, less than 60 seconds later, the pavement beneath Det.-Const. Hancox was slippery with his blood, his golf shirt soaked with it. His eyes were hooded and barely open, and soon, the lashes fluttered, and closed. Det. Pattison felt the slight pulse in his friend's neck weaken significantly; he tried to get a breath into Det.-Const. Hancox, and was splashed with blood. He tried again, was splashed again, so he began doing chest compressions. A uniformed officer arrived then, pushing Det. Pattison out of the way.

This was Sergeant Jeff Howell.

He knelt beside Det.-Const. Hancox, saw his nostrils were clogged with heavy blood clots, his mouth full of viscous blood and clots. There was no bubbling in all that blood; Det.-Const. Hancox wasn't breathing.

Sgt. Howell rolled the young officer so that his face was in his lap; he was trying to clear the throat so they could get a breath into him. Sgt. Howell, too, felt for a pulse, felt nothing he recognized as one, just a "faint fluttery feeling" beneath his fingers.

Here, the fire department arrived, or maybe the first of the paramedics, then Constable Steve Hicks.

Someone told him the man on the ground was "Billy from hockey;" Const. Hicks took one look around, taking in that dreadful scene, and "wasn't satisfied enough was being done to help Billy," so he asked the paramedics if he could help, knelt in the blood, and jumped right in.

They were still trying to find the wound; Const. Hicks saw the huge tear on Det.-Const. Hancox' shirt, cut around the shirt (carefully preserving the tear, the evidence) and saw the great hole in the chest, "a sucking chest wound," as it's called. The medics handed him little plastic sheets to try and close it, so any air they might get into Det.-Const. Hancox would not be lost, but there was so much blood they wouldn't stick.

Const. Hicks, a plastic mask in hand, kept "bagging" Det.-Const. Hancox, once for every five chest compressions from the paramedics; he tried to suction off the blood, to no avail. They got the officer onto a back board, onto the stretcher and into an ambulance, and as it raced across the top of the city, heading for Sunnybrook trauma centre, the medics hooked up three separate suctioning machines, but within a minute, they all filled with blood, and were useless.

At 11:02 that night, less than an hour after the first "Officer down" call from Det. Pattison went over the police radio, Billy Hancox, at 32, was formally pronounced dead.

The officers who testified yesterday -- among them Det. Pattison, Sgt. Howell and Const. Hicks -- all gave their evidence professionally, without undue emotion. Only when asked, either by prosecutor John McMahon or one of the defence lawyers, did they elaborate on the events of Aug. 4, 1998, and their feelings that night, the terrible conflict between grief and rage and the need to remain cool-headed and do what had to be done, to do what their training teaches them to do.

In their measured words were glimpses of what it was like.

Some of them, like Det. Pattison and Det. Geoff Hesse, who was the third officer working on the break-and-enter surveillance they were conducting that night, knew Det.-Const. Hancox, well enough to be his friend, and to love him. Det. Pattison had just relieved Det.-Const. Hancox on "the eye" -- the key position of such an undercover team -- and the young officer had gone to the Becker's for a snack. Det. Pattison laughed a little as he remembered that Det.-Const. Hancox had loved O Henry and Snickers bars; a half-eaten Snickers was found on the seat of his van. His partner, Det. Pattison said, was a "nice guy, a good guy ... tenacious and smart, who was so kind and polite to street people," "not as ignorant" perhaps as Det. Pattison, that when word of his slaying reached them, they felt the loss, too.

Det.-Const. Hancox loved the job, loved coming to work, and kept his life "in different cells. There was his work cell, his family cell, his golf cell, his hockey cell." He carried in his wallet a picture of his wife, Kim, and their child. A few hours before he was killed, he and Det. Hesse had been out picking up furniture for the new baby he and Kim were expecting within the month.

But some of the officers, such as Sgt. Howell and all of those who headed to the scene when Det. Pattison's call for help went out, who lined the route and stopped traffic when the ambulance made its emergency run to hospital, didn't know Det.-Const. Hancox at all. All they knew was all they needed to know; one of their own was down.

Det. Pattison remembered sitting on a curb, wondering why the ambulance was taking so long. Sgt. Howell described looking around the parking lot, wondering what on earth had happened, "who or what we were looking for," looking for a reason.

They found none. So they tried to save their brother, their hot breath on his smeared mouth, his pulse fading under their fingertips, their urgent voices in his ears. He didn't die alone. It was the only tribute available to them, and they availed themselves of it. They covered themselves with blood, and in the end, with an odd, restrained glory Billy Hancox would have understood.

Copyright Southam Inc.