Perth Inside Out: A tale of a high-speed chase and daring escape from custody

The Perth Courier
Photo from The Perth Courier archives: Headline and story from Sept. 3, 1970, Perth Courier, after daring escape from second story window of Perth courthouse.
Posted on: December 30, 2020

A set of weaving headlights could be seen coming from the east on Highway 7, followed by a string of red flashing lights. The stolen vehicle had a drug-crazed and desperate youth behind the wheel, and the red flashing lights were the pursuing cruisers operated by Ottawa OPP officers.

A call had come in the wee hours of Aug. 16, 1970, from a #10 District OPP radio dispatcher to assist Ottawa OPP in stopping a vehicle that had been pursued from Bells Corners. A Perth OPP cruiser was immediately sent to assist. 

The first sighting of the westbound pursuit was on a long straight stretch of highway east of Innisville, and the only option available to the Perth cruiser was to make a U-turn and head back west in front of the suspect and pursuit vehicles, which were rapidly closing the gap. The maneuver required was known as a rolling stop or roadblock, and the idea was to get the timing right so that the suspect vehicle was forced to slow down, while the cruiser sped up at the last second and maneuvered to stay ahead of the chase. 

Although the Perth OPP cruiser took severe damage to the rear end after being rammed, the suspect vehicle lost control after the collision and entered the ditch and adjacent bush. Shortly, Ottawa OPP officers who had been in hot pursuit came out with the suspect under arrest – in custody, at least for the time being.

Although the incident ended with no deaths or injuries, the danger to other drivers on the road was very real, and not lost on the OPP officers who took part in the chase that night.

The offender was Joseph Hector Ernest LaChance, only 17 years old at the time. Prior to the Young Offenders Act of 1984, youths aged 16 years or more could be named by news reporters, as did The Perth Courier of Aug. 20, 1970, when reporting on court proceedings for LaChance. The story mentioned that LaChance had “requested to see the jail’s doctor since he had been indulging in drugs. The request was made through the duty counsel lawyer … Mr. LaChance is believed to be wanted by Ottawa Police for questioning in other matters.”

LaChance decided not to take part in those court proceedings, and his escape is described under a September 3, 1970 headline: “Lachance Takes a Chance – Escapes Police Custody. Jumps from Second Storey Window.” Although LaChance already had a history of escaping from Ontario’s reform schools, security was lax that day. While being guarded by Perth Police and OPP officers, he was allowed to go to the washroom alone.

When returning from the washroom, LaChance escaped by leaping from an unlatched second-storey window in the lawyers’ chambers onto a roof. “He then dropped to the courtyard, scampered over a three-foot wall, and landed on a bowling green ten feet below.” 

Police had arrived in the room of escape as LaChance was squirming through a window. “The window Lachance escaped through was directly behind another window in the courtroom where the police officers were sitting. Court proceedings were interrupted for half an hour as testifying police officers left the courtroom to search for the youth … During the search Perth Police and members of the OPP combed the area around the East Ward, but Lachance was nowhere to be found. A woman living on Brock Street said she spotted Lachance running through her back yard but thought he was a neighbor’s child. She told him to get out of her garden.”

He proceeded to steal a nearby vehicle, and drove the car to the parking lot of the grocery store on Wilson Street. Later, another car was reported stolen at RR4 Perth, and LaChance disappeared from there. Police continued the search in vain.

The escaped prisoner’s freedom was short-lived however, as chronicled by a Sept. 10, 1970 newspaper report: “Joseph Lachance, the 17-year-old who escaped police custody in court last week was picked up by Ottawa Police only 24 hours later. Lachance, who was wanted by Ottawa Police for auto theft and other changes of break, entry and theft, was arrested at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday … It may be a few weeks before Lachance returns to the scene of his short-lived escape to face a multitude of charges, among them auto theft, dangerous driving and escaping custody.”

LaChance finally had the Perth charges resolved when he appeared in Provincial Court on Tuesday, Oct. 20 and pled guilty to charges of escaping custody and dangerous driving. A newspaper report stated that “Police weren’t taking any chances this time.” LaChance was led into the courtroom handcuffed to two notorious Ottawa area criminals who were escapees from Burritt’s Rapids Correctional Centre. He was sentenced to 12 months in Ontario Reformatory, and the sentence was to run concurrent with a sentence of 15 months on break and enter and car theft charges already received in Ottawa. 

Sad to say, it was well known that Ontario’s Reformatories were schools in criminal techniques, and offered little chance of rehabilitation.

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Column by Terry O’Hearn

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News