Officer dies from gunshot wound

March 12, 2010
A retired logger and one-time politician was charged Wednesday with shooting and killing a provincial police officer and trying to kill another in a gunfight on a rural Ontario road.

A retired logger and one-time politician was charged Wednesday with shooting and killing a provincial police officer and trying to kill another in a gunfight on a rural Ontario road.

Const. Vu Pham, a 15-year veteran of the Ontario provincial police force and a married father of three boys, was fatally shot as he got out of his cruiser after stopping a pickup truck Monday morning near the southwestern Ontario village of Winthrop.

The suspect shot at another officer who arrived at the scene, police allege, and was then himself shot and seriously wounded.

Fred Preston, 70, of the northern Ontario village of Sundridge, remained in critical condition in a London, Ont., hospital Wednesday, as police charged him with first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Witnesses described a tense gunfight with 15 to 20 shots fired across a two-lane road.

In a stunning coincidence, Preston likely knew Pham as the officer was growing up, a neighbour of Preston's said Wednesday. Pham and Preston both lived at one time in Sundridge, some 375 kilometres away from the crime scene.

Pham, originally from Vietnam, was adopted as a boy by Dan Thompson, who became the pastor at Bethel Pentecostal Church in Sundridge, said a town resident who didn't want to be named.

For both the suspect and his alleged victim to have come from the village of 1,000 so far away from the tragedy left the community shaken, she said.

"That's why it shocked everybody in Sundridge," said the woman, who like many other residents knows both Pham's family - the Thompsons - and the Prestons.

Funeral arrangements for Pham have been made and thousands of police officers are expected to pay tribute to the slain officer in Wingham, two hours north of London, where he lived on Friday.

Heather Thompson, his sister-in-law, said Wednesday that Pham was a dedicated family man who will be greatly missed.

"I'm glad that they're honouring him because he's a man that should be honoured," she said from her Sundridge home.

"He was a wonderful brother. He was a wonderful son. I don't know where to stop. He was a wonderful man of God. He lived his faith on his sleeve. He was real."

A service for Pham wast to be held Friday at 1 p.m. at the North Huron Wescast Community Complex in Wingham. Visitation was scheduled for Thursday, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at McBurney Funeral Home.

Thousands of police officers from across Canada and some from the United States were expected to attend the funeral, said provincial police Insp. Dave Ross.

"The purpose behind the police funeral is to pay tribute to the fallen officer by his fellow officers from around the country and certainly from the U.S.," he said.

"It's a show of support mainly for the family."

Thompson said Pham left Sundridge after high school to go to college. He lived there periodically as he attended police college and right after graduation, leaving Sundridge for good some time in his early 20s, Thompson recalled.

He worked in the Ontario communities of Parry Sound and Cochrane before moving to Wingham, she said.

The family is asking for memorial donations to a trust fund for Pham's children - Tyler, 12, Jordan, 10, and Joshua, 7, - in lieu of flowers. Donations can be made through Scotiabank.

Preston was Joly Township's reeve starting in the 1990s, with his final term ending in 2003. Friends and neighbours said the ex-logger was an avid hunter who had taken up wood carving.

Preston and Pham went to the same church when Pham was a boy, but Preston wouldn't have connected the boy he knew to the 37-year-old police constable he is charged with shooting and killing, said one of Preston's neighbours.

"Fred Preston would not realize at the time when this cop pulled him over that it was somebody that he knew from Sundridge," said Alvin Chapman, who has known Preston for 45 years.

Preston's condition was listed as critical Wednesday evening - no change from when he was taken to hospital after the shooting Monday morning. Chapman said it might be better if Preston's condition did not improve.

"I hope he passes away, because I do not want him to suffer in prison," he said.

"It's hard to believe. He wouldn't hurt a flea."

He was good with a gun, though, Chapman said.

"He and his brother, they'd target practice all the time."

Sources tell The Canadian Press that Preston had been living apart from his wife Barb for about a year and a half and that she lives with their daughter, Anne. Preston had been living in the basement of another daughter's house, a source said. Published reports say Preston went to his ex-wife's residence in southern Ontario with a rifle shortly before Pham was mortally wounded.

Alex Preston said he spoke to his 70-year-old brother last Sunday, the day before Pham was shot and killed and has no idea why he drove to the Winthrop area because he knew his wife was staying at a women's shelter in North Bay, Ont.

His brother had been in denial about his wife Barbara's infidelity until she recently admitted to having an affair, he added.

"He talked about her unfaithfulness - she had finally admitted it but he never told me anything about what his plans were," he said.

Preston is in a London hospital and his brother says he is in a coma on life support, with a bullet lodged in his brain.

"I don't think he'll ever come out of it," said Preston. "He wasn't only my brother, he was my best friend, so it's an awful loss."

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