A man who was celebrated as a hero two years ago after he ran into two burning homes and helped save eight people went on trial Thursday for allegedly running away from police in an unrelated incident.
Kendal Sharpe, 30, has pleaded not guilty to failing to stop for police, dangerous driving, nine charges related to the unauthorized possession of a sawed-off shotgun, and two counts of breaching court orders, in relation to an incident that saw him arrested Nov. 2, 2017.
The Crown's evidence in the case, Sharpe's lawyer argued, relies on a police dog.
RNC constables Shane McClafferty and Allan Rowe testified they had been on patrol in the Goulds shortly before 1 a.m. when they attempted to pull over a white Ford Fusion on Back Line. The vehicle sped away and the officers deemed it unsafe to chase, but watched it head toward Ruby Line and cross onto unpaved Silas Road before disappearing into the woods.
McClafferty said he called for backup as well as the RNC's K9 unit, and police eventually located the Fusion at the end of a field in a ditch, still running, dome light on and driver's door open.
RNC Const. Kevin Morgan, handler for police dog Edge, told the court he and Edge walked through fields and woods before arriving at the vehicle, at one point coming to a trench at the end of an ATV trail. He was familiar with the area, he said, because the RNC often conducts dog training exercises there.
"I could see the ground was torn up where a vehicle had hit it," Morgan testified. "It had gone completely airborne and tore up the ground on the other side."
Arriving at the vehicle, Edge picked up a scent from the driver's door, Morgan said.
"When I got to the driver's door, the dog nearly pulled the arm off me, the track was so strong," he testified, noting land and weather conditions were ideal for Edge to track the scent.
Morgan said he accompanied Edge on the track for almost an hour, through bogs and fallen trees.
"My dog never had to lift his nose once," Morgan said.
Edge scrambled down an embankment and into a hole, Morgan testified, before starting to whine and scratch. The officer said he thought the dog had found a person, but when he aimed his flashlight into the hole, he saw it was a sawed-off shotgun.
While Rowe stayed with the weapon, Morgan said, he and Edge continued tracking the scent and subsequently located Sharpe hiding behind a residence in a nettle bush.
"I heard Mr. Kendal Sharpe yelling that my dog was biting him," Morgan said.
Edge had bitten Sharpe on the leg, and police called for paramedics to come and assess him. Sharpe had no injuries, Morgan said.
Three of the police officers told the court Sharpe appeared groggy and semi-incoherent, and they suspected he was under the influence of drugs.
The shotgun was found to contain one round of ammunition in the chamber and four more in the magazine. While the gun was old and rusty, the shells were new, the officers testified.
"My dog never had to lift his nose once." — RNC Const. Kevin Morgan
Sharpe's lawyer, Derek Hogan, called no evidence in the case, but pointed out the police officers hadn't gotten close enough to the vehicle on the road to determine whether there was more than one person in it.
"We're essentially being asked to draw a negative inference that there was no other person there because the dog didn't follow another track," Hogan said, suggesting two people could have made the same track, and someone other than Sharpe might have left the gun behind.
There was also nothing to suggest a reason for the gun, Hogan argued, even though Sharpe is facing a charge of possessing the firearm for a dangerous purpose.
"What's the dangerous purpose?" the lawyer asked. "He may have taken the gun so he could get rid of it."
Judge Lori Marshall will return with a verdict May 23.
Sharpe made headlines in May 2017, when he was lauded as a hero for his role in helping eight people escape a fire that destroyed two homes on Portia Place in St. John's. In an interview with The Telegram at the time, Sharpe said he had been driving in the area when he noticed smoke billowing from the window of a home. He tried to enter the home to check for occupants before knocking on neighbouring doors and helping residents evacuate. Sharpe then attempted to douse the blaze with water from a garden hose until firefighters arrived.