After 35 years - and two days - North District RCMP Insp. Eric Brewer, 58, is retiring.
His last day of work at the North District RCMP office was on Monday.
Along with piecing together what has occurred at countless accident scenes, Brewer can also say he's helped solve a murder mystery or two in his long-running career.
For example, in 1996 police found a battered bicycle that had been ridden by Jo Anne Feddema just prior to her death near Williams Lake. Brewer, who by then had developed a reputation for his reconstruction skills, was called in to help and was able to determine what kind of vehicle had struck her bike.
After three days of running various types of vehicles into similar types of bikes, he informed the major crime investigators that it was a small pickup truck with a bumper height of 49 to 52 centimetres and the bike was struck at a low speed.
When they arrested Peter William Fliss, he had a little Dodge pickup truck with a bumper height in that range. Brewer and fellow accident investigation specialists played a major role in putting Fliss behind bars on a first degree murder conviction.
"That was the first time that we openly saw a collision reconstructionist in the forefront in a homicide investigation the way he was," said North District RCMP traffic services Staff Sgt. Pat McTiernan who worked alongside Brewer on that case.
Brewer was first stationed in Crow's Nest Pass, Alberta alongside the Trans Canada Highway, and from day one Brewer found himself investigating traffic accidents and says he has not regretted a moment.
"I've really had a real liking for this work," Brewer said.
He's seen plenty of changes over that time.
On his desk can be found variety of stop watches and a plumb bob, memorabilia from a bygone age when computers, lasers and optical scanners were still flights of science fiction fancy rather than the tools police now take for granted.
In his early days, Brewer found himself doing plenty of improvisation.
"I actually invented a device," he said. "It was a flat piece of aluminum with a compass mounted inside it and within that was a wheel that turned and it had a crosshair on it.
"And simply all you did was connect the tape to the zero and as you walked around and measured the angle. For small scenes at an intersection, it was perfect."
Over the years, Brewer has put plenty of effort, time and passion into getting the answers police need to support their methods and improve on them. At one point, he spent a year-and-a-half putting together a project where they rolled over, by remote control, two fully-loaded commercial trucks with trailers.
"Engineers from all over the world came to look at that because it had never really been done before on that type of a scale," Brewer said.
With the help of 26 strategically-placed cameras, the test was recorded and largely confirmed that police were approaching investigations of such incidents in the correct manner. The video continues to be used on courses for investigating heavy commercial truck rollovers.
The idea came to Brewer while he was sitting in a courtroom during a preliminary inquiry and a lawyer was pressing an RCMP investigator - it happened to be McTiernan - about his knowledge of truck rollovers.
At the preliminary inquiry, McTiernan was forced to admit he had never seen a commercial truck and trailer actually roll over but by the time the trial was held, he could say he had thanks to the testing devised by Brewer.
Over the years he's been on the job, the number of fatalities on B.C. roads has dropped dramatically due to changes in vehicle design and improvements in policy.
Gone are the days when officers were simply sent out to a spot where they could issue as many tickets as possible.
"There used to be a formula that they used - the x number of tickets cancelled out x number of collisions - and you kind of wondered, how does that work?." Brewer said. "How do we write tickets that are strategically irrelevant and how do we cancel out a collision that has killed somebody?
"For me, fortunately, I worked for some pretty innovative people who saw through that and had other strategies."
One strategy that truly made a difference was seatbelt enforcement, which began in the 1970s.
"I remember working the freeway in the Lower Mainland and you'd be really pounding the seatbelt stuff away because really, what we were seeing were people being ejected from vehicles in crashes that were clearly survivable, but they were tossed out or the impacts inside the vehicle were so severe that they just weren't going to survive," Brewer said.
Brewer also credits the introduction of tougher laws in 2010 against drinking and driving and excessive speed for a further reduction in the number of fatalities on B.C. roads and highways.
Advances in vehicle design have also been made. Innovations like collapsible steering columns, air bags, anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability control and all-wheel drive have all made a difference, although none are enough to overcome bad driving, Brewer warned.
"You can have all the gadgets and all the electronics but if you've exceeded Newton's law, you're going in the ditch," Brewer said.
For his part, Brewer has continued to conduct tests to see how vehicles equipped with such features react in various situations.
"You can't stop, you can't sit back and say 'o.k., I know everything now,'" Brewer said. "The minute you say that, you're behind the times."
Soft-spoken, methodical and with interests in math, physics and almost all things mechanical, Brewer has also become an authority on reconstruction and has delivered courses and seminars across Canada, the United States and even in China.
Starting 2001, Brewer was instrumental in a five-year process of developing and building the courses that now make the RCMP's Pacific region the place to come to learn the skills of accident reconstruction.
"I would say to you, and other people will tell you the same thing, that the courses we currently have are second to none anywhere in the world," Brewer said.
It was only during the last five years, when he moved to Prince George, that he had moved into a management position where he oversaw 89 RCMP across northern B.C. Despite the size of his territory, Brewer said North District has felt the most like a family.
"If you look at the big detachments like Surrey, the average guy on a watch has no clue who is working on the other watches," Brewer said. "But here, for the most part you pretty much know everybody."
McTiernan has known Brewer since the early 1990s and had nothing but good things to say about him.
"Eric has always been the kind of guy for who there was no 'no,' there was always a way to make it happen," McTiernan said. "He's very eloquent, he's very analytical and he's very decisive in the stuff he does and people listen to him."
Moreover, Brewer listens to the people around him.
"I can say that Eric has never said 'no' and Eric has never treated me like I was his subordinate. He has always used a team concept in his supervisory skills."
Over the years, Brewer has also developed a reputation as a skilled wildlife photographer - to the point where he's now selling his work - and now that he's out of the RCMP, he plans to pursue that passion. He and his wife also plan to remain in Prince George.
"Over the years, we always passed through Prince George to get where we wanted to go," Brewer said. "So now that we're here, we're going to stay here."
As much as he might miss his job, Brewer is glad to be moving on after working on investigations adding up to countless thousands of deaths.
"You've got to know that over time, there's a toll that's paid for all of that and I think I need a change of scenery, so to speak," Brewer said. "I may go back to it some day, I don't know, but right now, today, I'll say that it's time to do something different."
North District RCMP Staff Sgt. Gord Flewelling will be taking over Brewer's position on a temporary basis until a full-time replacement is found. Brewer is not the only one moving on as McTiernan will be retiring in March and Flewelling in August.