A FORMER highway patrol officer has told of how he was moments from shooting an armed fugitive in the dramatic finale of one of the most notorious police pursuits in Australian criminal history.
Retired Senior Constable Troy Cutler spoke outside Lismore courthouse this morning as the man he had in his Glock pistol's sights on that day was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for his crimes.
Sen Const Cutler was tasked with engaging two fugitives on the afternoon of February 5, 2015 as their stolen blue Mitsubishi Lancer sped south over the border on the Pacific Highway at Tweed Heads at speeds of up to 190km/h.
John Tough, 31, and Calin McCabe, 20, had been pursued since they fled Caboolture, carjacking several vehicles, along the way, before their tyres were blown out by by road spikes at Chinderah.
Tough jumped out of the Lancer and shot at police officers and a member of the public an estimated six times before his arrest.
According to Troy Cutler, Tough is lucky to be alive.
"The risk to community was just extreme ... 3.21 in the afternoon on the M1,(you can) imagine the amount of vehicles," the retired police officer said outside of Lismore court this morning.
"Six .45 calibre bullets sprayed across the highway with no one getting hit was just extremely lucky ... and very concerning to me, I was 0.4 of a millimetre away from shooting him."
"I've been a policeman for 16 years and at that particular moment I was 10.8m away, and I was on my second squeeze of the trigger about to shoot Mr Tough."
Mr Cutler's split second decision not to take the shot, he said "worked out to be the best".
"I'm 99% sure I would have killed Mr Tough had I shooted," he later said.
"In 16 years of shooting I've never missed a target at 10m."
District Court Judge Deborah Sweeney today sentenced Tough to 14 years' jail with a 10 year non-parole period for three counts of firing a gun in an attempt to evade arrest, and four counts of aggravated assault with intent to take a motor vehicle.
Calin McCabe, who "played very much the secondary role following Mr Tough's lead" in the events of that day, was sentenced to six years' jail with a non-parole period of three years.
"I still do not understand how or why he came to be in the car with Mr Tough ... the only explanation is they were both drug users leading itinerant lives," Judge Sweeney said.
Both men were heavy ice users at the time of the chase.
Judge Sweeney said the crimes were "spontaneous and chaotic" rather than constituting organised criminal behaviour, but unfolded "without regard for public safety".
She quoted victim impact statements from three of the officers including Troy Cutler, who had all been treated for shock and post-traumatic stress following the events of that day.
He retired eight months ago.
Taking into account time served Tough will be eligible for release on February 4, 2025. McCabe will be eligible for release next February 4.
Following their release both men will be extradited to Queensland to face charges over the earlier events of that day. Tough will also be disqualified from driving for two years.
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