The driver of a pickup truck that slammed into a group of pedestrians in Amqui, Que. on Monday afternoon did so intentionally and chose his victims at random, the police said.

Provincial police have identified Steeve Gagnon, 38, an Amqui resident, as the driver.

He turned himself in after the fact. He has been arrested and is expected to be charged later today.

Gérald Charest, 65, and Jean Lafrenière, 73, were killed and nine others were injured in the incident.

Claude Doiron, a spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), Quebec’s provincial police force, said investigators believe Gagnon planned the act and did it deliberately, but chose his victims at random. Officers are treating the incident as a murder investigation, Doiron said.

Gagnon is cooperating with investigators, he added. 

Of the nine surviving victims, three suffered serious injuries and are in critical condition and six others were being evaluated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to the SQ.

Six victims, including a baby and a toddler, were transferred by plane to the Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus trauma unit in Quebec City. The baby and toddler are in stable condition, the CHU de Québec confirmed. Three adults remain in critical condition. 

One victim is under observation at the Amqui hospital. 

‘He smashed everyone who was on the sidewalk’

The Bas-Saint-Laurent Integrated Health and Social Services Center (CISSS) says it has deployed 10 psychosocial workers to help the relatives of the victims.

Witnesses described how, shortly after 3 p.m. on Monday, a pickup truck accelerated down the sidewalk in front of the Captive microbrewery on Saint-Benoît Boulevard. 

Ken Moreau, an Amqui resident, was walking on the sidewalk at the time and heard a loud noise behind him. 

He turned and saw a pickup truck heading straight for him, accelerating, he said, as it raced down the sidewalk. 

“I saw everything. I was just in front of the first people who were hit,” he said. 

Moreau managed to dive behind a lamppost, but others weren’t able to react as quickly. 

“I just had the time to jump to safety, and he smashed everyone who was on the sidewalk,” he said. “People didn’t have time. The man right in front of me didn’t have a chance. We turned at the same time, both of us, and he was hit. I think that man died.

“It’s terrible.” 

Looking on to the scene on Tuesday, Daniel Thériault, a resident, recalled the two men who were killed. 

Thériault knew Charest and Lafrenière for 30 years and says they were known for taking walks around the community of 6,000. He said it’s a “nightmare” for the victims’ family.

“I am very angry,” said Thériault. “There’s a shock because we often take a walk on this boulevard.”

Although he was not at the scene of the crash, Thériault, who is a paramedic with 27 years of experience, said he received a call about an hour later informing him of the crash.

“We don’t often know this kind of tragedy. It’s a first time,” said  Thériault. “I know these people … It’s difficult to speak of him. They are so gentle, a good friend.”

He invited the town to take part at ass at the Saint-Benoît-Joseph-Labre Church in Amqui on Friday at 7 p.m. to commemorate the victims. Until then, church bells will ring each day at 3:10 p.m., the time at which pedestrians were struck. 

“For our community, it’s sad and shocking,” said Kindé Cosme Arouko, a priest who was also at the scene on Tuesday. “We can offer moral support and spiritual support.”

Gilles Turmel, a spokesperson for the regional health board, the CISSS du Bas-Saint-Laurent, confirmed three of the injured have been released from the hospital in Amqui. He said a code orange was launched due to multiple casualties.

Cones surround a police bus to delineate a command post.
The Sûreté du Québec has set up a command post at the site of the crash. (Émilie Warren/CBC)

He added that psychological assistance was offered to witnesses yesterday, and will be available again today and for the weeks to come.

The Sûreté de Québec says major crimes units across the province have sent several dozen police officers to investigate. 

Highway 132 remains closed in both directions this morning in Amqui. A bypass route has been set up for motorists.

A command post will be in place for a few more hours, the Sûreté du Québec said earlier this morning.

Amqui Mayor Sylvie Blanchette said Tuesday the municipality would be offering support to family and friends affected by the tragedy. 

“There are about 6,000 people living in Amqui so people know and help each other,” she said. 

At a news conference Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked the first responders who attended to the victims and said his thoughts were with families in Amqui.

“This tragedy has devastated us all across Quebec and Canada,” he said. “We will continue to be there to support that community in the very difficult days to come.”

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