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Missing teen

Kelowna RCMP are requesting the public’s assistance in locating a missing teen.

Sophia Yousif was last seen on Aug 26.

Police say there is nothing to indicate foul play at this time. They believe she is either in Vancouver or Kelowna.

Yousif is described as:

  • Caucasian female 
  • 17 years
  • 5 ft 7 in (170 cm)
  • 126 lbs (57 kg)
  • Brown hair
  • Brown eyes

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Sophia Yousif is urged to contact their local police, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).


Coke smuggler gets 14 years

A man convicted of smuggling almost 100 kilograms of cocaine into Canada has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Clifford Montgomery was found guilty earlier this year, along with is accomplices Salvador Ascencio-Chavez (also known as Victor Perez Rodriguez) and Tariq Aslam.

The trio were busted in 2010 when a fruit grinder machine from Argentina was stopped by customs in Vancouver and officials found 97 kilos of almost pure cocaine hidden inside three cylinders.

Most of the drugs were swapped out for a placebo, and the machinery was then sent along to Kelowna, its stated destination.

The three men all actively took part in picking up the machinery, and surveillance equipment watched the men drive the drugs (still inside the machine) to an acreage near Merritt.

An audio device planted with the “drugs” also picked up conversations between the men, in which Justice Alison Beames noted Montgomery took a senior role in directing the others and was “clearly giving directions, not taking them.”

Montgomery was given three and a half months credit for the time he spent in pretrial custody, which means he will still serve over 13 years behind bars.

The 37-year-old married father of two did not speak during his sentencing, but did make an obscene gesture followed by a smirk as he was led from the courtroom by a sheriff.

A handful of family members and supporters of Montgomery were also in the court. They remained calm inside, but once outside there were two angry outbursts with one directed at the media, hoping they “all rot in hell”.

Montgomery was arrested soon after the incident at his West Kelowna home; Chavez and Aslam were arrested in California, near the Mexico border, in October 2010.

Cops warn public about 'ICE'

Kelowna police are warning the public after a significant drug seizure was made earlier this summer.

Two men from Quebec were arrested in August while in possession of 80 white pills stamped with the word “ICE”, along with 30 grams of marijuana, a set of brass knuckles and a significant quantity of cash.

The drugs were seen earlier in the summer and had been peddled as Ecstasy –  a colloquial term for the drug MDMA  – but in fact, a lab analysis found the drugs were made from methamphetamine instead.

A 21-year-old man from Quebec and a 20-year old Montreal man both face potential charges of Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking.

They will appear in court at a later date.

Send Castanet an anonymous note if you took the drug and are now shocked to find out what was in it.


Wings closes, jobs lost

1:15 p.m. update:

According to an email leaked to Castanet the Wings Corporate office says they hope to reopen the restaurant in Rutland and rehire employees who've lost their jobs.

Here is the email:

We at Head Office have been in touch with the landlord working as quickly as we can to reopen this location. We have also been in touch with the employees & assured them that when we are able to make the conversion we will welcome them all back.
Thanks and hope this clarifies things.
Best Regards

Laticia Naicker

6 a.m. original story: Employees at Wings restaurant in Rutland were utterly surprised Tuesday morning to find the front doors locked and a handwritten sign placed on the door saying the eatery was closed until further notice.

Kylene Bray is a single mother who has worked as a server at Wings since they opened roughly three months ago. She tells Castanet that she was shocked when she arrived at work.

“I showed up to work today at 10 o’clock (Tuesday morning) and the doors were closed,” says Bray.

“I started crying right away. I have a little boy. I’m a single mom. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Apparently she wasn’t the only one to find out about the restaurants closing in this fashion; roughly 20 other employees also found out the same way.

Bray says everything was fine when she left work Monday afternoon, but she did find it odd when management asked everyone for their keys — they spoke of a security issue and told everyone they were changing the locks. She was also paid on Monday, an unusual occurrence because Friday was her normal pay day.

Other than that, she says business had been good.

“It was steady, and I made good tips. I mean that’s what I live off of,” says the 34-year-old mom.

Bray believes she is still owed about $300 plus holiday pay, saying she received the equivalent of her previous pay cheque, meaning Monday’s pay did not take into account current hours worked.

She expects other employees are in similar situations.

Further compounding her problems, Bray recently moved into a new place and paid her first month’s rent with Monday’s pay cheque. Now she has no money and wonders what will happen next.

Bray has heard that the company is aware of the situation and are attempting to rectify things, but wonders if she’ll still have a job, even if new owners are brought in.

“And even if new owners do come in, I don’t think we’ll get all our hours back. I finally got a job from Monday to Friday, ten until five. You can’t find that serving.”

Calls to Wings head office in Burnaby were not immediately returned.

If you were also affected by Wings sudden closure, please contact Castanet - [email protected]

We want to hear your story.

Touching base with businesses

If response from business on Kelowna's Leon Avenue is any indication, business is good in the Central Okanagan.

Members of the business community took to the streets Wednesday morning as part of the third annual Business Walk sponsored by the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission.

Business Improvement Associations, Westbank First Nation and Chambers of Commerce in the Central Okanagan partnered with the COEDC on the project.

Businesses in the Central Okanagan were asked four questions during the visits:

  • How would you rate the current state of your business?
  • What do you like best about doing business in downtown?
  • Is there something that can be done to help your business thrive. If so, what is that?
  • Is there any financial assistance we can hook you up with?

Peggy Athans, Executive Director of the Downtown Association visited business business along Kelowna's contentious Leon Avenue.

I was surprised. It's been really positive," says Athens.

"Everybody has been ticking off fair and steady or good and increasing. Over the last three years, downtown Kelowna has always come back as fair and steady or good and increasing."

Athans says the number one concern she is hearing centers around parking.

"It is something, as a downtown Kelowna person, we are addressing with City Hall. Client parking is fine but they are saying staff parking can be a challenge."

Another concern for businesses along Leon is the criminal activity that goes on along the street.

According to the COEDC about 750 businesses have participated in the program with follow up assistance provided to more than 100 businesses including signage, zoning, parking, exporting and business to business connections.

A final report will be released once all the data has been collected.

The tale of two Kegs

Located alongside busy Highway 97, ‘The Keg Steakhouse and Bar’ opened its new franchise just over one week ago.

However, for those who have been attending the Water Street Keg location since its inception back in 1993, they might be curious to know what is going on with the two restaurants.

Steve Stintson, owner of the downtown location, says the Kelowna market can only support one Keg restaurant, which means the original Keg will be shutting its doors December 31.

Stintson will instead stay true to his heart and remain in the downtown location -- this comes after a lengthy court battle with the Keg Corporation, where both parties are tied to a non-disclosure agreement.

“I had mixed feelings after 38 years with The Keg, a lot of great stories and history,” he says. “But I am looking forward to moving on and doing something exciting with these buildings in the downtown, that is where our focus is.”

He hopes his staff, some of whom have been with him for over 20 years, will stay on with his new business endeavour in the same location when it opens in the new year.

“I decided to stay downtown with most of the staff in this location and open as something else,” explains Stintson. “I have an affinity with the downtown having been down here for 27 years in Kelowna, so the new concept will reflect the changes in the downtown and respect the heritage buildings that we are in.”

Despite the downtown location coming to an end, The Keg experienced one of its best seasons this summer, as did Stintson’s two other restaurants, Mission Tap House and The Train Station Pub.

“This summer was a banner year for all restaurants in Kelowna, especially in the downtown with the Bernard improvements being completed now. We were lined up, we had a record year at The Keg.”

The new Kelowna Keg, owned and operated by a small franchised group, claimed they had no interest in opening a restaurant downtown, but instead in a high traffic area, which is situated in the parking lot across from the Real Canadian Superstore.

Co-owner Sam Brovender says the location is great.

“It’s central and convenient for locals, great parking, great access; you know, all the reasons you look for when choosing a location.”

Brovender recently moved to Kelowna from Whistler and says one other business partner also lives in the city, and the two will take pride in becoming a part of the community.

“We feel pretty good about being involved with the community, that is super important to us,” he says. “You know we’ve been open a week and we’ve been able to contribute just over $32,000 to Big Brothers and Big Sisters Okanagan.”

The funds were raised through the Keg Spirit Foundation, an incentive that raises money for youth charities.

Until the downtown Keg location closes in December, gift certificates will be honoured at both locations and both places will have similar menus. 


BC likes to stay active

British Columbians have long held the title of healthiest Canadians and according to a new Ipsos Reid Poll, that trend is continuing.

The study, conducted partnership with the Canadian Sporting Goods Association, interviewed over 16,500 households about their current fitness participation levels.

It found that BC households remain the most active, with 86 per cent of all households engaging in some form of fitness or sports activity.

According to the study, eight-in-ten Canadian households nationally have at least one person who engages in a fitness or sports activity with Quebecers the least likely to participate, with 77 per cent of their province engaged in a fitness or sports activity.

A recent study by Stats Canada corroborated those healthy BC numbers, finding that three out of the six fittest cities in the country were in BC.

In fact, of those top six, Kelowna ranked as the 'fittest' city in the entire country.

The new study from Ipsos also breaks down how Canadians like to exercise and it varies greatly between provinces.

Overall, the top three fitness and sports activities nationally include walking for exercise (46%), exercising at home with equipment (24%), and cycling/biking (24%).

However, when looked at by region, participation fluctuates. While walking for exercise is most popular in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (55%) and B.C. (56%), it is less so in Quebec (36%).

Additionally, three-in-ten Prairie households exercise at home with equipment, compared with only one-in-five in Quebec. And whereas nearly one-in-five B.C. households participate in swimming, only one-in-ten in Quebec do so.

Despite the seemingly high number of physical participation numbers in BC, at 86 per cent, the obesity epidemic continues to grow in this country with numbers showing one in four Canadians are obese.

A number that has risen 17.5 per cent since 2003.

Hells Angel found guilty

A Kelowna Hells Angels member has been found guilty of numerous weapons charges.

Joseph Bruce Skreptak was recently released following his incarceration for a separate incident in which he was sentenced to 26 months in June 2013 for aggravated assault.

Also found guilty of weapons charges alongside Skreptak on Tuesday was Cory Montemurro.

The pair were stopped by police in November 2010 near Salmon Arm after an officer smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle during a routine traffic stop. A later search of the rental SUV found three handguns, a sawed off shotgun, baseball bat, body armour, balaclavas, knives, two walkie-talkies, bear spray and a cell phone jammer. Two other men who were also in the vehicle on Nov. 25 had charges against them dropped.

At one point Skreptak took the stand in his own defence and told Justice Geoff Barrow that he did not know about any of the weapons found throughout the vehicle. He denied all knowledge of any goings on or conversations about any of the weapons and said he did not look in any of the places where the weapons were found. Asked how it came that police found a sock containing latex gloves and bullets to a .38-caliber restricted handgun on Skreptak, he stated that when they were pulled over, someone in the car said, “hide that sock Skrep”.

Skreptak told the court he was unsure who said it, but he instinctively did as he was told. The gun that the bullets matched was not found in the car, but was found tossed in the snow about 15 feet from where the group was taken into custody on the side of the highway near Salmon Arm.

In his decision, Justice Barrow stated he had great difficulty believing Skreptak’s testimony and found the entire account of his events to be “improbable”.

Barrow also brought up Skreptak’s reasoning for their trip that night, stating he was looking for property closer to Quesnel, so his common law could be closer to her family. But Salmon Arm is not much closer to Quesnel than Kelowna, causing Barrow to doubt his testimony. Further adding skepticism to Skreptak’s account of that night included his driving to see a property at night, with no flashlight, and with men who Skreptak admitted to barely knowing.

Furthermore, Barrow said it was “beyond belief” that Skreptak never asked who the other men in the car were, or why they were coming along with him to look at property in the dead of winter.

“As noted, I don’t believe Mr. Skreptak’s evidence.”

The Crown had argued that all four men had been involved in a joint enterprise, pointing out how curious it was that four guns were found in the car, along with other items typically used for nefarious activities.

In the end, Justice Barrow found Skreptak guilty on 11 weapons charges and one count of marijuana possession, while Montemurro was found guilty of 11 weapons charges.

Barrow explained that while the Crown’s case was entirely circumstantial – except for two of the charges – he was satisfied the accused jointly owned all items found in the rental vehicle.

The men will be back in court next month to set a sentencing date, some of the charges carry a mandatory minimum of three years in prison.

No disabilities here

Contributed Chelsea McEvoy

A local film maker is shining the spotlight on a support group for wheelchair-bound residents of the Okanagan.

Chelsea McEvoy made a short documentary on the Facebook group Accessible Okanagan, which bills itself as a "A place to post wheelchair friendly activities, sports and events in the Okanagan Valley."

The group started with two members, James Hektner and Anand Kannan and grew to over 200 members within the last five years. 

The group is more than a peer support group, it acts as a complete family unit said McEvoy. 

"They do everything together from sports, to BBQ’s, to parties. They have changed my perspective on people in wheelchairs and are the most encouraging, fun and inspiring group I have ever met."

Her most recent video is on a trip the group took to Whistler, a dream group coordinator James Hektner had more than a year ago.

"After a year of hard work and fundraising, over 30 people in wheelchairs went to Whistler, this August, to go bungee jumping, zip lining and experience the peek to peek gondola."

"It truly was an amazing experience." 

McEvoy discovered the group when a close friend of hers was paralyzed following a car crash. 

"He did not want anything to do with anybody in a wheelchair until [group founder] James Hektner approached him on the street," she said. "My friend has now gained independence, confidence and has his life back. I saw such a transformation in my friend and started attending accessible Okanagan events and in doing so, I was so inspired I started documenting the group."

McEvoy's first video was a 45-minute documentary called A Guide to Spinal Cord Injury. It is now a resource for Okanagan College nursing students. 

"This Whistler trip was not only important for the peers but more important for the public," said McEvoy. "To show able bodied people that individuals in wheelchairs are strong and independent and to show someone who has a spinal cord injury that there is a support system out there full of incredibly happy fun loving people."


Smoked out

Residents of an apartment building on Truswell Road in the Mission were evacuated for a brief time Tuesday morning.

Fire crews were called to the building shortly after 10:30 a.m. after smoke was seen coming from the top floor.

The building was evacuated as a precaution but fire officials say the smoke was consistent with cooking.

Fire crews are going through the building to ensure it was nothing more.

--Files from Carmen Weld

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