Elderly pair pulled from lake

An older couple was rescued from Okanagan Lake Saturday by several quick-thinking passing motorists.

Just before 11 a.m., Chris Sayles was driving along the snow covered and slippery Highway 97, between Penticton and Summerland, when he came upon a minivan that had just lost control and plunged into the lake.

“I must have just missed it occur,” Sayles said.

He pulled over and rushed to the minivan, along with about five others who had also pulled over.

“We just kind of formed an impromptu human chain and the driver already had the door open and we were able to get her pretty easy, and then the passenger kind of had to crawl over, swim, through the driver's door,” Sayles said.

A few of the rescuers, including Sayles, were up to their waists in the water as they rushed to get the pair out of the van, but Sayles said he didn't notice the cold water at the time.

Once they had the couple out of the water, they rushed them into one of the rescuers' van, and covered them in blankets to warm them up. 

Sayles said the elderly man who was in the passenger seat when the minivan plunged into the lake was complaining of chest injuries. Both were taken to the hospital in an ambulance, but the extent of their injuries is unknown. 

The crash was one of many that occurred throughout the Okanagan Saturday, as heavy snow blanketed the valley. 


Plant closing, 58 jobs lost

UPDATE: Feb. 17, 2:30 p.m. 

The president of Pattison Sign Group confirmed the company's Penticton manufacturer will be shutting down on Apr. 15, putting 58 people out of work.

Don Belanger said the plant on Waterloo Avenue is one of several locations being impacted by "restructuring" within the company.

He said the decision is a response to a "profoundly changing industry," in a statement issued to Castanet.

"This was not an easy decision to make and it weighed heavily on everyone involved in the strategic planning process," Belanger said.

"However, to better adapt to global trends, market fluctuations, and evolving client demands, we identified the need to realign our company’s operational infrastructure."

Belanger said the company has "put a range of resources in place to support our friends and colleagues, as we go through this challenging time."

ORIGINAL: Feb. 16, 4:35 p.m.

A major manufacturing plant in Penticton is closing down this spring, according to multiple employees and other sources

Staff at Pattison Sign Group, located at 165 Waterloo Avenue, were reportedly given notice on Thursday that the plant will be shut down as of Apr. 15.

One source said 58 people will be out of work due to the closure.

Another person familiar told Castanet the facility is moving its Penticton operation to the United States, but that has not been confirmed. 

The facility is one of three Pattison sign group locations in western Canada, with the other two located in Calgary and Vancouver according to the company's website.

No spokesperson for Pattison Sign Group was able to be reached for comment on Friday after multiple attempts throughout the day.

Hotel on Naramata bench?

A luxury hotel could soon be part of the hillside on the Naramata bench.

Poplar Grove Winery owner Tony Holler is proposing to build a hotel with about 20 units on a property adjacent to his winery, located at 436 Lower Bench Road.

About one-third of the proposed 1.5 acre lot, within Penticton city limits, is currently part of the agricultural land commission.

The plans would need to gain approval from the Agricultural Land Commission, before being approved through a rezoning process by the City of Penticton.

Holler said the section that is ALR land is a layer of bedrock, and has never been used for farming. 

He also said he's a "huge supporter" of the ALR, and added his family owns about 130 acres of farmland.

"I would be up in arms if they actually took agricultural land where you can grow things out of (the ALR)," Holler said.

"But this is a small property. You can't take half an acre and make a farm out of it, especially on this property because it's all bedrock."

Holler presented the hotel plans on Tuesday for the first time, inviting neighbouring property owners to an open house to view the plans. 

He said responses he heard to his plans were generally positive, but acknowledged several concerns he heard.

Cathy Rublee, who lives across the street from the site on Lower Bench Road, reached out to Castanet to share her reservations against the proposal. 

She owns a 4.5 acre orchard and doesn't think the proposed luxury building would mesh in a farming community.

"This does not look like a small boutique hotel, it's four storeys. It says 20 units and these are obviously suites, not just rooms," Rublee said.

"Also we need to use (Lower Bench Road) for farm equipment... There's farming activity going on. This is not the right place for a hotel."

Holler said he doesn't believe the hotel would be big enough to change the area, and believes "the one thing missing in Penticton" is a luxury hotel like what he's proposing.

"In the middle of town, it's not the same experience, and I would suspect not the same client."

If his rezoning proposal is approved, Holler would hope to have construction for the hotel begin in 2019 and have the property complete the following year.

The timeline would be similar to a massive pot facility Holler is also planning to build in the South Okanagan.


Upping wildfire preparation

The RDOS is continuing to try and make its rural areas more prepared for wildfires after last year's record burn in B.C.

The regional district voted on Thursday to seek funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities to implement a fire mitigation program in three areas — Kaleden, Twin Lakes and Missezula Lake, north of Princeton.

The program focuses on educating residents on fire risks and ways to protect their properties, according to a report from RDOS staff.

A consultant with the regional district identified those three rural communities as areas that "meet the criteria" for the UBCM grant application, the report said.

The consultant deemed the fire hazard rating as extreme and high for Twin Lakes and Missezule Lake, respectively.

No fire hazard rating was given for Kaleden, but the consultant pointed out there was a "significant interface fire" last year — referring to the 5.5-hectare blaze last July that destroyed two structures and threatened others.

In November, the RDOS applied for funding to the UBCM for similar wildfire mitigation efforts in Arawana, near Naramata, and in Ellis Creek, east of Penticton.

More than $500 million was spent by the provincial government to battle wildfires in B.C. last summer.

Fest of Ale tickets going fast

Ticket sales for the 23rd annual Fest of Ale, taking place at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre in April, are more than double what they were last year at this time according to organizers.

The beer festival has become a springtime staple in Penticton, which has reportedly continued to grow for recent years.

A total of 68 breweries will be on hand for the two-day event, with more than 175 craft beers, craft ciders and cask ales featured.

A dozen local restaurants will be offering an array of dishes, many paired with beers from local breweries. Live entertainment will also be a key cog in the weekend event. 

"This must-attend event is one of the largest and longest running beer festivals in the Pacific Northwest," event coordinator Ginger Budinski said in a news release.

The event takes place on April 13 and 14. Tickets are $29 for one day or $49 for both days.

More information can be found here.

City crews braced for snow

In anticipation of snowfall predicted to hit the Okanagan this weekend, city staff in Penticton are advising residents they are prepared for potential issues on its roadways.

In a news release, parks supervisor Todd Whyte reminded that snow removal services are based on priority routes.

First and second priority routes include main roads, steep hills, routes for emergency vehicles and busses, school zones and industrial and collector roads. Third priority roads are residential streets, laneways and industrial side-streets.

The city also reminded residents that moving parked cars off of streets can help plows work more efficiently. Property owners or occupants are also required to remove snow from sidewalks in front of their property by 11 a.m.

"We would like to thank residents in advance for their patience as road crews begin the process of clearing our streets and sidewalks of snow and ice," public works manager Len Robson said.

According to Environment Canada, up to eight inches of snow could fall in Penticton by Sunday.

More information on the city's snow and ice clearing program can be found here

8.5 months for B&E spree

A Penticton man was sentenced to an additional 254 days in jail Friday, stemming from a series of property theft convictions last year.

Simon Bell, 37, was arrested late last year in Oliver for multiple thefts between March and November of 2017. He was found guilty of 14 offences including theft over $5,000, flight from police and possession of stolen property over $5,000 among others.

Justice Michelle Daneliuk had delayed her sentencing decision following the initial hearing on Dec. 14, asking for more information after defence claimed Bell's right wrist was broken by police force during his arrest.

Apart from that allegation, Daneliuk was worried of Bell's future work prospects if his injury was in fact caused by police force. Bell is a heavy-duty mechanic who is capable of making a six-figure salary, the court previously heard.

Information heard in Penticton court on Friday indicated Bell originally injured his right wrist while mountain biking in the summer. The court also heard that he had re-aggravated the injury two days before his arrest. 

With a lack of definitive proof that police had directly caused Bell's injury, Daneliuk determined that, at worst, the arrest exacerbated his pre-existing injury. 

“It’s very unfortunate for Mr. Bell… But I don’t hold the police to blame.”

Bell first fell into legal trouble in 2016, and Daneliuk said his problems began when he injured his left wrist and needed time off work.

As a result of that injury, Bell became bored, which led to substance use and eventually a drug addiction issue, Daneliuk said.

“As I recall, you’re a gentleman that had no criminal history and a relatively normal life. You were a contributing member of our society until such time as you got into trouble with drugs," Daneliuk said to Bell, who appeared by video. 

"It’s just incredibly unfortunate at your age that you’re caught in this cycle right now, and I want you to be able to break that cycle.”

Including credit for time already served, Bell will serve 147 additional days from Friday's ruling. He also still has to serve 80 days from a collapsed previous intermittent sentence, meaning he will spend the next 227 days behind bars.

Bell will also be required to serve a year of probation following his jail sentence.

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