The knock on the door came at an hour when the news is rarely good. Before dawn on March 4, a Durham police officer at Josie Geisel’s Ajax home told her there had been an accident near Highway 401. Her husband, Mark, had been rushed to hospital with a serious head injury.
Across the Atlantic in London, Cassandra Geisel’s phone buzzed with the “horrific” news about her dad. She booked the next flight home.
“I immediately broke down,” Geisel said. “It was one of the worst moments of my life.”
Mark Geisel, 67, was driving near Highway 401 and Brock Road in Pickering before 2 a.m. on March 4 when he was rear-ended so hard the impact crushed the entire rear half of his Acura sedan. The three-car collision was allegedly caused by an impaired driver in a pickup truck.
Soon came news the man charged with causing Geisel’s injuries while impaired was an off-duty police officer, Toronto Det. Preston Clark.
“A police officer should be an example for the community,” said Cassandra Geisel, whose father remains in hospital, five weeks after the collision. “If they have the authority to condemn others for their actions, their behaviour should be nothing but exemplary.”
Clark, a 21-year veteran of the Toronto police, is charged with impaired operation of a vehicle causing bodily harm, an offence that can result in jail time. He’s also charged with operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit.
Court documents state Clark, who has been suspended from the Toronto police with pay since the day of the collision, made his first appearance at an Oshawa courthouse this week.
His charges have not been proven in court. His lawyer Fred Fedorsen declined to comment.
Clark is the third veteran Toronto police officer to be charged with impaired driving in just over six months. The allegations are raising concerns about wellness supports for officers and drawing criticism of police allegedly breaking the laws they swore to uphold.
“There are not words to describe how disappointing it is,” said Eric Dumschat, legal director at Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, speaking generally about officers accused of impaired driving.
“(Officers) are the ones who see first-hand the damages and the tragedies caused by impaired driving,” Dumschat said. “They see the consequences, whether it’s having to make that phone call or knocking on someone’s door at 3 a.m. … or just being on at the site of the crash to see it first-hand.”
On Thursday, Toronto police Insp. Chris Boddy made a brief first appearance before the Toronto police tribunal, where he is accused of discreditable conduct after admitting to impaired driving in a Newmarket court in December.
Boddy was with the Toronto police Wellness Unit when he was charged in August 2021 by York Regional Police with having a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. He pleaded guilty to the offence last year and was sentenced to a $3,000 fine, a 14-month driving prohibition and probation for 12 months.
In January, Toronto police Supt. Riyaz Hussein — a senior officer who headed the Toronto police internal disciplinary tribunal — was arrested and charged with impaired driving, careless driving and having open liquor after allegedly rear-ending a delivery truck on Highway 401 outside Pickering. Hussein sustained minor injuries.
Asked whether Toronto police are concerned about the recent allegations, spokesperson Connie Osborne said: “We hold all our officers to account through internal discipline and the tribunal process.”
Cassandra Geisel said she hopes her father will get justice through the court system but said the damage caused by the collision has been done. “My father will never be the same,” she said.
Geisel said her dad led an extremely active life, dedicated to his work in the transport industry and rarely took a day off. Now, his prognosis for recovery is unclear and his driver’s licence — vital to his work and sense of freedom — has been taken away for medical reasons related to his brain injury.
“The brain is so delicate and mysterious, we have no way of anticipating what the future will look like. Knowing the active nature of my father, any limit to his ability to be as active as he was before the accident will greatly impact his mental health,” she said.
The collision has also had a traumatic impact on her mom, who now has to drive from Ajax every day to be with her husband as he recovers in a Toronto hospital, Cassandra Geisel said.
Rick Frank, a Toronto criminal lawyer whose work includes police accountability issues, said it’s concerning to see recent cases of officers facing accusations of impaired driving. He worries it may signal employees aren’t getting the mental health and wellness support they need — “they need help, they need some support,” Frank said.
A spokesperson for Toronto police said in an email Friday that the wellness of employees is a priority for the chief and the police service, saying: “members are encouraged to seek assistance and access the resources available to them through TPS Wellness as well as other outside supports.”
The charges against Clark were not publicly announced by Toronto police or Durham police.
Asked why, a spokesperson for Toronto police said their practice is to name officers who are criminally charged as a result of Toronto police investigations, but won’t do so if the probe was conducted by another service because it is up to that force to issue the press release.
A spokesperson for Durham regional police said when they charge police officers from other services, it’s up to that service to disclose that information.
In general, Durham police only names drivers charged in connection to collisions under some circumstances, including when there is a fatality, the spokesperson said.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis