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James Smith Cree Nation mass killer died from cocaine overdose, inquest hears

February 27, 2024

Saskatoon police probe finds RCMP officers did not cause Myles Sanderson’s death

A blurry cellphone photo shows multiple police officers standing behind a man who is pressed up against an RCMP vehicle and has his hands behind his back.
Myles Sanderson is shown under arrest moments after RCMP forced his stolen truck off the highway. (Dabber Gamble/Facebook)

WARNING: Some content may be distressing to readers

CBC News: A public coroner’s inquest into Myles Sanderson’s death has heard the mass killer died of “acute cocaine overdose,” and that his arrest by the RCMP did not cause or contribute to his death.

The week-long public coroner’s inquest that began in Saskatoon on Monday is meant to establish when, where and how Sanderson died. Sanderson killed 11 people — 10 in his home community of James Smith Cree Nation and another in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask. — on Sept. 4, 2022. He died three days later in police custody.

Saskatchewan’s chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Shaun Ladham, testified at the inquest Tuesday afternoon. He said that Sanderson’s heart disease might have contributed to his death, but there was “so much cocaine there” that it strained Sanderson’s heart. He added that all of Sanderson’s actions, including his dangerous driving, could have contributed to his high heart rate.

Ladham said that even small doses of cocaine can cause deaths.

Jennifer Billinsky, the forensic toxicologist who performed the toxicology test on Sanderson, said there were no signs of alcohol, fentanyl or methamphetamine in his blood, but the cocaine found in Sanderson’s possession was highly potent. Billinsky referred to a case study of 700 incidents of fatal cocaine overdoses where the average blood/cocaine concentration was 10-times less than the level found in Sanderson’s blood.

Billinsky said she is not aware of an antidote for a cocaine overdose.

RCMP did not cause death, inquest hears

In earlier testimony, Det. Sgt. Kenneth Kane of the Saskatoon Police Service outlined the circumstances surrounding Sanderson’s arrest and death. He testified the Saskatoon police investigation into Sanderson’s death found his arrest by the RCMP did not cause or contribute to his death.

Jurors watched a video of the last moments of a three-day manhunt after officers located the stolen truck Sanderson was suspected to have taken. One officer trailed him to a gas station at the intersection of Highway 11 and 312. 

Then, multiple police cars followed him as he sped into oncoming traffic. Officers suggested he was aiming at the drivers, who drove onto the highway’s shoulders and into the ditch before Sanderson swept through the ditch and onto the right side of traffic.

It was soon after — when Sanderson was driving at about 139 km/h, according to a collision analysis report — RCMP Cst. Heidi Marshall used her vehicle to force Sanderson’s stolen truck into the ditch on Highway 11 between Rosthern and Hague, Sask.

She recalled the chase, barrelling toward vehicles at speeds upwards of 155 km/h, according to her estimate. The video of the pursuit and the accompanying RCMP communication audio was replayed to the gallery. 

What’s not evident in Marshall’s voice is her fear of imminent death.

“I have two little kids at home and when we were southbound at those high speeds the thing that I remember at the time was [thinking] ‘What’s going to happen to my kids? Am I going to leave them without a mom?'” she said between sobs. 

“The one thing in my life that I always wanted to be was a mom, so I did not want to leave my family without a mom.” However, she added, “that quickly fleeted out of my mind, I didn’t really have an opportunity to think of it for too long.”

She described nearly colliding with an oncoming vehicle. When she followed Sanderson across the ditch into the southbound lane every other thought left her mind, she said. She only thought about getting Sanderson off the road and preventing him from hurting others.

“I got him, I got him,” she said as she forced Sanderson into the ditch on Highway 11.

A map showing locations of James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon relative to other cities in Sask.
An inquest into the death of Myles Sanderson, the man who killed 11 people and injured 17 others on the James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby community of Weldon in September 2022, is running in Saskatoon this week. (CBC Graphics)

A video of the subsequent arrest shows officers swarming the truck, guns drawn, screaming for Sanderson to show his hands and get out of the vehicle. A side airbag can be seen covering Sanderson’s face, but Kane said police saw Sanderson’s hands appear to move toward his face from his waist area below the airbag.

According to Kane, police pulled a bag of white powder and a rolled up $20 bill from the vehicle, as well as a knife. The powder tested positive for cocaine, he said.

“My reasonable conclusion is that he was ingesting cocaine at the end of the pursuit — prior to being pulled out and arrested — and in fact it was still in his grasp when they pulled him out of the vehicle,” Kane said. 

Kane said Sanderson laughed and swore at times during the arrest.

Kane read from a document describing what happened during Sanderson’s arrest.

“You guys should have f–king shot me, man,” Kane quoted Sanderson as saying just after his arrest. “I’m ready to die now,” he said a minute later. 

‘How many bodies did I get?’

Kane also said Sanderson asked, “How many bodies did I get?”

Brian “Buggy” Burns’s wife and son were among the people Sanderson killed. He heard that quote from the gallery on Tuesday. “It kind of hurt; I lost my son and wife to it,” Burns said.

During the arrest, one officer asks Sanderson whether he took anything. Sanderson’s responses, as it appears in the video’s audio, is muffled before the officer loudly exclaims “meth?”

Within minutes of being cuffed Sanderson went into medical distress, police said, blood seeping from his nose.  Cst. Marshall said she saw Sanderson’s eyes roll back and his legs give way in a way she didn’t think he could be faking.

“I felt like he was dying,” she said.

Officers in the video appear to have given Sanderson two shots of naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of opioids. A doctor declared him dead at the Royal University Hospital about an hour later.

A coroner’s inquest is required by law when someone dies while in police custody, unless the coroner is certain the person’s death was due to natural causes and not preventable.

Brother of stabbing victim says mass killer Myles Sanderson took ‘the easy way out’

WATCH| Brother of stabbing victim says Myles Sanderson took ‘the easy way out’: 17 hours ago, Duration 2:02

Darryl Burns, who lost his sister Gloria Burns, reacts to expert testimony about the death of Myles Sanderson, who killed 11 people and injured 17 others. Sanderson died from an overdose of cocaine, which he ingested as he was being arrested.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Kane wrote the 45-page report that analyzed the Sanderson’s arrest on Sept. 7. Saskatoon police interviewed 15 officers and paramedics who were directly involved that day.

Saskatoon police investigated both the collision and Sanderson’s arrest.

It used information from a preliminary autopsy from Ladham, according to Kane. At the investigation’s conclusion, it found there was no indication that RCMP caused or contributed to Sanderson’s death.

On Monday, RCMP Supt. Devin Pugh, who was the critical incident commander for much of the manhunt and during the arrest, testified it was dangerous for officers to attempt to ram Sanderson, given the trailing officers’ lack of training.

Kane reiterated that information, stating it put the lives of both the officers and suspect at risk, but that the officer managed to force Sanderson into the ditch with only cosmetic damage to Sanderson’s vehicle.

Support is available for people affected by this tragedy. The Hope for Wellness hotline offers immediate help to Indigenous people across Canada. Mental health counselling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at

You can talk to a mental health professional via Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. It is free and confidential.

Talking Stick is a Saskatchewan-based free anonymous chat platform that connects people seeking emotional support to a trained Indigenous peer advocate 24/7.


  • Due to an editing error, an incorrect date was given for Myles Sanderson’s death. He died at hospital on Sept. 7, 2022.Feb 27, 2024 6:14 PM CT

Dayne Patterson, Reporter

Dayne Patterson is a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan and is based in Saskatoon. He has a master’s degree in journalism with an interest in data reporting and Indigenous affairs. Reach him at

With files from Samantha Samson