Disgraced former colonel Russell Williams wouldn’t be behind bars today if it weren’t for one hardworking Whitehorse forensics expert.
When Belleville police searched near the home of one of Williams’ victims, Jessica Lloyd, in early February, they found a single tire track in the snow.
The police took photos and then tapped into a database with 1,100 different tire brands to look for matches.
That narrowed it down to a few vehicles, including Williams’ Nissan Pathfinder, which police stopped during a roadblock.
The tire track connection ended up being the key in getting Williams to confess.
For Cpl. Jim Giczi, the Whitehorse RCMP officer who invented the database, playing a role in a high-profile murder and sexual assault case in Ontario is rewarding.
“It was like winning the big game,” says Giczi, who works on the second floor of the RCMP detachment downtown.
The tire database has more humble beginnings.
It all began with a break-in Giczi was investigating in 2007.
He took photos of tire marks at the scene, which, to be used for evidence, must be blown up to scale. Then he went back to the forensics lab where he works.
At the time, the RCMP used a tire-track identification program sold to them by a private company.
It cost the force over $10,000 a year to buy and maintain.
Worse, its resolution was bad, and in this case, the database was useless.
So Giczi went to Integra Tire in Whitehorse, and began looking for matches.
The owner, who was also an auxiliary cop, walked him through the makes.
While they were walking around the warehouse, they spotted a van with Nokian winter tires.
This was the pattern that matched the crime-scene photos.
“It was a lot of work to find this tire,” Giczi says he thought at the time.
So, despite his busy schedule as one of the only two forensic officers in the Yukon, he began compiling a photo database of tires.
He hoards all the latest tire manufacturer brochures and pamphlets, leafing through for new models.
He then takes a high resolution photo from the literature, blows it up, and files it in the database.
After three years of work, done whenever Giczi has some free time in his schedule, his tire inventory has over 1,100 makes.
It’s used by the Canadian Police Services Information Centre, a national police database office, open to all levels of law enforcement.
There was even an FBI investigation in Virginia that used the database.
“This database will simply give them guidance in the tire make,” says Giczi.
A cop can search by make, by season and even by pattern.
The pattern search is the most popular.
Tire patterns are created by ribs, the vertical lines, and by grooves, the horizontal ones.
There’s even a database of ATV tires.
Sgt. Don Rogers, the RCMP spokesperson in Yukon, says investigating a tire track before the database was hellish.
“It could take 30 hours for one track,” he says.
Cops can tell a lot from tire marks.
The pitch and groove can indicate how fast the vehicle left.
The grass and gravel around it can indicate direction.
And two tire tracks beside each other can tell police whether the vehicle has any alignment damage, something that could be extremely useful in an investigation.
Originally from Regina, Giczi has been in the Yukon for eight years and doesn’t plan to move.
He’s surrounded by people – his forensics partner and the tire dealers – who have made his extracurricular project possible.
Besides, his work in Whitehorse is already valued across the country, though he won’t take credit for it.
“The police guys in Belleville, they did all the matching,” says Giczi.
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org