Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Silver dollar" sized bullet hole in chest

When ambulance paramedic, Mr. Whiting, climbed the steep stairs to the first level of the New Wings Hotel, he saw police constables with weapons drawn standing at every corner of the floor which was laid out in an “H” pattern.

Whiting walked over to a constable standing with his shotgun pointed into a tiny room. “He looked stressed,” Whiting recalled.

What do you have?, Whiting asked. “There’s one dead and there’s one alive and he’s talking.”

From the hallway, Whiting could see 21 yr. old Trumaine “Ekoh” Habib lying spread-eagled on his back on the floor, just inside the door of tiny Room 15. “He had a silver dollar sized hole in his chest,” Whiting recalled. “You could actually see into his chest.”

Whiting, in his mid-thirties, tall, thin, with short blond hair, a mustache and goatee, blue eyes, and a speaking style that would get picked up on the “gaydar” most Vancouverite’s have by now developed, was testifying at the murder trial of Dennis Knibbs on Wednesday. Knibbs is accused of shooting Habib multiple times, just seconds after Habib shot Liscombe, as Knibbs and Liscombe attempted to force open the door of a hotel room in which Habib was staying. Whiting was consistently polite when testifying, referring to Habib as the “dusky-skinned gentleman” on the floor.

It was obvious to Whiting that the “larger gentleman” lying on the bed had a belly wound: “He was trying to hold his intestines on his belly with his hands.” Whiting described him as black, 250-260 pounds, bare chested. He was Winston “Ian” Liscombe. Like the stressed-looking Constable had indicated, Liscombe was lucid. “He arched his head to look at me when I stuck my head around the corner to look in.”

Whiting asked the Constable standing in the doorway with a shotgun, whom he once again described as looking “stressed”, if he knew where the shooter was. “No”, the cop replied. Whiting instantly “went back to the wall, which was the safest point.” Whiting explained, “All the constables were tied up…There was nobody to go into the room to search it.”

It was obvious to Whiting that the man still alive in the room had “a life-threatening injury”. So he made a decision to go into the room. A constable went in with him, with gun drawn, “watching my back.”

Whiting took the pulse of Habib. His partner, paramedic Margaret Kay, double-checked for a pulse. Habib had “expired”, as Whiting put it.

Liscombe too would die, later at St. Paul’s Hospital. But as he lay on the bed with his torso twisted to the left, cradling his belly with his hands, he was able to talk to Whiting. "He spoke like he was in pain.”

Whiting: What happened?
Liscombe: I’ve been shot.
Whiting: What were you shot with?
Liscombe: A rifle.
Whiting: Are you familiar with firearms?
Liscombe: Oh yeah.

Whiting had a reason for asking Liscombe the last question. Some of the injuries on the other victim, Habib, looked to him as though they had been inflicted by a pistol.

Liscombe was able to move not only his neck, but even his legs a little. “He kind of helped us as he was rolled over to see if there were any wounds on his back,” like exit wounds, Whiting explained. It was difficult to get Liscombe off the bed and onto the stretcher because the mattress “drooped”. “It was a slum,” Whiting said, the only time he sounded judgmental.

Did police fail to make safety of ambulance workers and quick medical treatment for shooting victims their top priority?

Whiting’s testimony raises questions about whether police made getting medical treatment to the shooting victims their top priority. Critical moments were lost as the ambulance waited a block away so that police could make the crime scene safe for paramedics – yet when ambulance workers arrived, the hotel room in which the victim lay had not yet been searched.

Whiting recalls arriving at the corner of Cordova and Dunley Streets, a block from the New Wings Hotel, and being “told to wait.” It is policy, he explained, for the ambulance to wait a block from a violent crime scene until police give clearance that it is safe to move in. Whiting and his crew “stuck our heads around the corner to see what was going on at the call.” They saw police everywhere, as well as fire vehicles, even two “mounted police” on horseback.

The ambulance workers made a call to dispatch, “Is it safe to move in?” It was then that they were told they were not dealing with a stabbing as they had originally been told, but a shooting. “Police lifted their yellow caution tape" Whiting testified, "so the ambulance could get in under it.”

They were met by a sergeant, Whiting continued, who gave them an update on the shooting: “Well, it’s two.”

Before Whiting and his crew arrived to climb up to the first floor of the New Wings, one level above the street, it appears that there had been ample police on site to search the room where the victims lay. Police had, after all, found time to search 'crackheads' on the sidewalk.

The time line tells the story. Whiting testified that the ambulance arrived a block away at 9:51 p.m. Constable Eileen Volpatti testified that she arrived at the New Wings Hotel at 9:49 p.m. and immediately saw “some of the members” of the VPD intercepting five women who were leaving the hotel through the front door. Volpatti performed “safety pat down searches of the females to make sure they had no weapons on them.”

Constable Mark Naufeld testified that he arrived at the New Wings at 9:49 p.m. -- two minutes before the ambulance stopped a block away. He saw “several members” dealing with “four or five” women exiting the front door of the hotel. He intercepted one of the women, Lauren Lee Wayne, and moved her to a wall nearby. Dealing with Wayne, an admitted crack cocaine addict whom Naufeld described as compliant, was his primary focus that night, until a bus arrived and he accompanied witnesses to the police station.

The testimony of Brian B., who lived in a seniors apartment building on Dunlevy St., across from the New Wings Hotel, would also suggest that there were sufficient police on site to search the hotel room before the ambulance workers arrived. He testified that when he heard gunshots, he noticed the time “9:38” p.m. on his digital pager, and “within five minutes of the gunshots, the street was full of policemen.” A number of them, he stated outside court, were carrying assault rifles.

Better police coordination could not have helped Nabib though. Whiting could see from the silver dollar sized hole near his sternum, that his internal organs were "maserated"; for the laymen jury, he explained that an example of maseration would be "liquified intestines". You don't come back from an injury like that, Whiting explained. But Liscombe had better odds of survival. He made it to St. Paul's Hospital where he was given an enormous amount of blood, according to earlier testimony by pathologist Dr. Grey.

As Whiting testified about the injuries of the two victims, defendant Dennis Knibbs hung his head. But his tie looked a tad upbeat. It was mauve.

Knibbs may have reason to be a tad upbeat. The fact that his cousin Liscombe had been moving and talking despite his shotgun wound, may help Knibbs. His lawyer, Glen Orris, has revealed that the defense intends to call an expert witness who will testify that one of the bullets in that room came from the direction of the bed. Could that have been the bullet that left the "silver dollar" hole in Nabib's chest?

As Whiting left the courtroom, a young male sheriff could be heard saying to another in a low voice. "Going to Starbucks? I need one. Badly."