Investigation into Vancouver dragging tragedy now involves U.S. punk band
Published Thursday, October 17, 2019 6:47PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, October 18, 2019 11:50AM PDT
VANCOUVER – As police continue investigating a horrific crash in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, CTV News has learned the case now involves a U.S. punk rock band.
Twenty-four-year-old Desiree Evancio was dragged five city blocks by a van and trailer on Saturday night, leaving her with life-altering injuries including the loss of an eye, shattered jaw, numerous broken bones and permanent damage to her limbs.
American punk-rock band Off With Their Heads had been playing at the SBC Restaurant on East Hastings Street, where the van came to a stop after midnight with Evancio’s body underneath.
CTV News cameras captured a Vancouver police officer with a breathalyzer in hand interviewing a man who looks like the band’s bassist, Robbie Swartwood, behind police tape as dozens of other officers closed several blocks of Hastings to investigate.
Police haven't named the suspect driver. A department spokesperson previously said the driver didn’t realize he had struck and dragged Evancio for five blocks until he stopped.
The band from Minneapolis publicly acknowledged on its Facebook page that one of its members was involved with an accident that’s had them cancel the remainder of their North American tour. The post reads in part, “We are all waiting for more information to come to light. Until that happens, I don’t feel comfortable carrying on playing live shows. Due to the sensitive nature of an accident a band member was involved with, I can’t elaborate more than that."
Vancouver police have said the driver, whom they briefly arrested and then released, is American. Authorities also allege the driver was impaired at the time, though they haven’t determined whether that was a factor in the incident.
Band frontman Ryan Young told CTV News: “Unfortunately, I can’t speak on any of the details because there is an ongoing investigation. I also wasn’t there and have zero information about anything. All I can say is that I am heartbroken for her.”
Nurse was at the concert
Dozens of fans attended the show that night, including a nurse-practitioner from Chilliwack who spent years working in a trauma unit. Despite his experience, he was still rattled by what he saw that night as he was hanging out with friends outside the venue after the show.
“It was so shocking at first, like where did that [person] come from?” said Sean Young. “The driver was backing up and it seemed there was no one behind him so the feeling was someone had [suddenly] gotten in behind it and [he’d] backed over someone.”
Young, who has no relation to the band’s frontman, rushed over to help and couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. He cautioned other Good Samaritans not to try and move the victim in case there were spinal injuries; he could already hear sirens approaching. He saw one of the band’s members he’d just seen on stage standing nearby.
“He looked very shocked, like the rest of us," Young said.
“I went to the back of the trailer and someone else was already there with a flashlight and you could just see blood – just a line of blood down the street and at that point I realized it was something completely different than someone getting backed over."
Growing support for victim
Evancio’s sister, Ashley Danh, says she’s still unaware of the severity of her injuries, which have Evancio facing numerous surgeries to reconstruct her face and repair her limbs. Yesterday, she went through a day-long surgery to rebuild one side of her face and set her jaw in place. The family is fundraising for the many costs associated with her recovery and living expenses as they’re unsure of the level of coverage the driver had on a vehicle with Illinois plates; American insurance standards can vary considerably.
Friends in Ottawa are already packing up to move to Burnaby and pay Evancio’s rent, care for her pets, and prepare to help her with the day-to-day struggles that will come with her life-altering injuries.
“This is going to be the toughest mountain she’s ever climbed,” said long-time friend, Braeden Radmore. “She’s going to make it through this, I know her.”
No charges laid yet
Given the extent of her injuries, Evancio is unable to tell investigators what happened, leaving them to piece together the events through witness accounts and video from security cameras or dashboard cameras.
"This is a priority for us,” said Sgt. Steve Addison. “We have a dedicated group of officers, our collision investigations unit is working on it and they will look at all sources of evidence to find out what happened.”
The van did not have front-end damage and investigators could be seen scrutinizing the back of the vehicle and trailer. Witnesses say they saw the victim toward the rear of the van near the trailer. Police say serious investigations like this one can be incredibly complex and require weeks or even months of investigative work.
In the meantime, they’re not taking any steps to keep the driver, who was briefly arrested and then released, in Canada.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Addison. “We need to complete our investigation and we have no reason to believe this person won't come back if he's required to."