A chance encounter between a Canadian military veteran and an off-duty police officer was one of the "triggering" events in the ex-soldier's death, a coroner's inquest heard Monday.
The inquest, being held in Prince George, heard how the veteran, an agitated Greg Matters, knocked a handheld spotlight out of the grasp of Cst. Steven Pelletier moments after Matters had forced his brother's small four-by-four off the road.
It just so happened the vehicle, driven by Matters' brother Trevor, had landed in the ditch in front of the Pineview-area home of Cst. Pelletier sometime around 3 a.m. on Sept. 9, 2012.
The fluke meeting was identified during the inquest as one link in a chain of events that would end roughly 40 hours later with Matters' death after police shot him folllowing an extended standoff at the veteran's Pinko Road family farm.
Pelletier testified he was sleeping with the window open because it was a fairly nice night and heard a vehicle backfire, then his dogs barking. When he looked out the window, he noticed a flashlight and decided to investigate.
He put on a pair of jeans, grabbed the spotlight and went outside where he came across a silver Suzuki Samurai with off-road lights on its top in the ditch. It was same one he heard backfiring at about 10 p.m. the night before heading along Alpine Drive, where his home is located. There was also a turquoise Dodge pickup truck on the road.
He then found Greg Matters, who was yelling at him to call police and at the same time pointing down into the ditch. Pelletier noticed another man, who he later learned was Trevor Matters, coming out of the vehicle that went off the road.
"Greg was quite agitated," Pelletier told the inquest. "He was yelling at Trevor quite a bit and I was trying to calm Greg down. Trevor was pretty mellow at the time, he didn't say a whole lot."
Because he was not in full gear, Pelletier said he did not want to get too close but at the same time wanted to separate the two while he tried to determine what happened. When Greg Matters asked him again if he had called police, Pelletier said he did not have a phone with him at the time.
"Part way through, Trevor mentioned to Greg, directing to me, that I am a cop," Pelletier said. "And Greg turned to me and said 'You're a cop?' And at that time I was still trying to figure out what was going on and I didn't answer him, yes or no, that I was a cop or not."
Greg Matters then accused his brother of doing doughnuts in the yard of the home about four kilometres away where he was living with their mother, Lorraine Matters, and said that's why he ran him down. He then asked Pelletier again if he called police and once more Trevor Matters told his brother Pelletier was a Mountie.
When Greg Matters went down into the ditch to turn off the four-by-four's still-running engine, Pelletier told him to "just leave it be."
"Greg came out of the ditch quite fast, coming forward to me, and took a swing to get the spotlight out of my hand and I noticed his fists were clenched and he said 'Don't you try to tell me what to do,'" Pelletier said.
That was when Pelletier asked Trevor, who was bleeding, to follow him. Pelletier left Trevor Matters at the steps to a cabin about halfway between the road and his house, and went on to the house to call an RCMP dispatcher to report what was going on.
When he went back out a couple minutes later, cellphone in hand to describe the scene to dispatch, Trevor Matters had left and he saw Greg Matters get back into his truck and head south on Alpine Drive. Pelletier said he assumed he had gone back home and never saw him again.
He said Trevor Matters drove by later the same morning with his common-law wife and apologized for what happened earlier on.
By that point, Pelletier had lived in the area for 18 months. Although Trevor Matters lived on a property accessible via a driveway about 500 metres away, Pelletier said he never met the man until that incident.
Asked by a jury member how Trevor Matters would have known he is an RCMP member, Pelletier said he understands word may have gotten around through other neighbours, possibly at a Christmas party.
As for Greg Matters, Pelletier said he knew of him through other RCMP members but never had direct dealings with him until that point.
Other than seeing him slip while climbing out of the ditch, Pelletier said he saw no signs of impairment in Trevor Matters. Similarly, Prince George RCMP Cst. Nathan Poyzer, one of two members called to the scene, said he saw no obvious signs of impairment when they found him at a friend's home some time later, but did notice injuries, including a goose egg on his head.
Poyzer said Trevor Matters was "beside himself" over what happened.
"He couldn't believe the fact that he was run off the road by his brother and punched multiple times and basically beaten up multiple times," Poyzer said. "A basic sense of fear was what I was getting from him."
Poyzer said he remembered Trevor Matters indicated he wanted to see his brother get the help he needed to deal with his anger.
Poyzer said he then called Greg Matters, who had repeatedly called 911, to give an update. When Poyzer told him police were still investigating and his brother had not yet been arrested, Greg Matters became "furious."
"There were multiple times when I couldn't understand what he was saying he yelling so hard at me," Poyzer said, and later added Greg Matters yelled he would have to take matters into his own hands.
Although he was eventually able to calm Greg Matters down and felt the conversation ended on a positive note, Poyzer said "completely random" points would set him off.
"It was very up and down," Poyzer said. "Obviously, he went through a lot of emotion and was very difficult to speak with."
When he returned to the detachment, Poyzer created a "pass on", asking the next shift to arrest Greg Matters, noting in part that he said during the phone conversation he did not even know it was his brother until he had chased him down.
Poyzer also said Greg Matters threatened during the phone conversation to kill his brother the next time he saw him and to shoot anyone who came onto his property he thought was a threat.
The mountie said he did not feel comfortable arresting Greg Matters himself in part because he was past the end of his shift and felt there was no immediate danger from the subject.
As for the claim Trevor Matters had done doughnuts on the lawn, Poyzer said he never did step foot on the location. Trevor Matters told him he had dropped by the home to see if his mother was there and, when he left, his brother gave chase.
When sister Tracey Matters took the stand earlier the same day, she described Greg Matters as "all talk and no action," when presented with other examples of threats her brother had made. She said he was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his 15 years in the military, which included a stint in Bosnia.
The inquest also heard recordings of the repeated calls to 911 Greg Matters made following the run-in with his brother. Family members broke into tears upon hearing a decidedly shaken voice of a man who as described as anxious, prone to panic attacks and paranoid.
About 30 people, plus some out-of-town media, attended the inquest's first day. It continues today at the Prince George courthouse, 9 a.m. start.