An Aurora man has been arrested after a high-speed police chase sparked by the slayings yesterday of his estranged wife and two young children.

 

Friends identified the victims as Wendy LaFleche, 41, her daughter Victoria, 7, and son, Jesse, 3.

 

LaFleche's son Devon Brisborne, 16, was not at home at the time of the attack in the two-storey frame home just north of the town's downtown core, a few blocks north of Wellington St.

 

John LaFleche, 40, was arrested an hour later by police, who pursued a green Chrysler Intrepid from Highway 9 and Jane St. up Highway 400 and into Barrie. The car swerved to avoid a spike belt placed on the roadway by police north of Duckworth St. and was eventually boxed in near the Highway 400-Highway 11 split in Barrie's north end.

 

He has been charged with three counts of first degree murder. His long hair was disheveled as he appeared briefly in a Newmarket court today. He was remanded in custody and will appear in court next Monday by video link.

 

Friends said he had moved out of the family home a month ago after years of simmering problems that included damage inside the home, but no physical violence directed against his wife of nine years or their children.

 

Yesterday's deaths were the second in a week in the GTA in which a parent is the suspect. On Thursday, a Markham man found his two children dead in the bathtub and his wife injured in their home. Sivananthi Elango, 30, who is in critical condition in hospital, is charged in the deaths of Renu Elango, aged 2, and Movlika Elango, aged 3 months.

 

Yesterday in Aurora, police sealed off Yonge St. throughout the day as forensic detectives probed for clues to the attacks.

 

Co-workers of the dead woman collapsed in tears when they received word of the tragedy. They retreated to a back room at First Choice Hair Cutters on Bayview Ave., weeping inconsolably.

 

They later asked customers to leave and closed the shop for the day.

 

"I understand that they were shot Oh, God!" moaned manager Amanda Allen, who was hugged by another hair stylist.

 

She said LaFleche had a maternal streak that extended even to her job.

 

"She was like our mother," Allen said. "She was always looking after us.

 

"If we were sick, she was telling us to go home, always taking care of us.

 

"She was a great mother. She loved her kids."

 

At LaFleche's workstation was a framed picture of Victoria and Jesse and a photo of Devon was propped up beside it.

 

"She was just a good person, all around," Allen said. "She was just very friendly, good to work with. She was a really close friend.

 

"She did everything for her kids," she said, adding that LaFleche's husband worked nights, leaving her to attend to all the children's needs and household chores while working five shifts a week.

 

"She had it hard," Allen said.

 

LaFleche had worked for First Choice for three years, the past 12 months at its Aurora location after two years at its Newmarket shop.

 

She had worked for the BiWay store in town until the retail chain collapsed in 2001, friends said.

 

Allen said John LaFleche first moved out of the home a few years ago.

 

"He came back and things seemed to be better and then, that was it," she said.

 

Recently, the couple attended marriage-counselling sessions, Allen said.

 

"They seemed to be getting along quite well since he moved out," she said.

 

"No, no, I don't think he was ever going to move back in. That was it for them.

 

"She had a few friends, but nothing you'd consider dating."

 

Victoria attended nearby Wells Street Public School and was learning to play the violin.

 

Jesse was looked after in a day-care centre while his mother worked.

 

"Jesse, he was just your average 3- or 4-year-old," Allen said. "Yeah, a little troublemaker."

 

Allen said she last saw LaFleche on Saturday, when they both worked.

 

She said she was "fine, just her normal happy self, making jokes."

 

LaFleche's caring nature came through in a letter to the editor she wrote to the Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner in August last year, complaining about motorists driving too fast on town streets.

 

"I'm afraid to ride on the street for fear of my own life," she wrote. "What is the rush? I know we all lead busy lives, but is it worth taking a life?"

 

With FILES FROM GAIL SWAINSON

 

AND MIKE FUNSTON