Thursday, August 21st23.3°C

Ex lotto boss repays $55K

The former boss of the B.C. Lottery Corporation has paid back $55,000 collected while he was found to be in a conflict of interest.

Michael Graydon left the Crown agency last February to become president of the newly formed PV Hospitality ULC, an affiliate of the Paragon Gaming Inc. developing a casino project adjacent to BC Place.

A government review found he'd been in negotiations for two months while still at the helm of the lottery corporation.

He did not disclose that fact to the lottery board.

And after he left he had access to the agency's information system for another 10 days, though there was no evidence Graydon used insider information to benefit his new employer.

Graydon received a $125,000 severance package when he quit but he was not asked to repay $30,000 in vacation pay to which the agency said he was legally entitled.

The Canadian Press


Another thunderstorm warning

Once again, Environment Canada has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the Okanagan.

They anticipate the development of storms that could produce heavy rain this afternoon.

In a worst-case scenario, the weather agency says there could be as much as 15 millimetres of rainfall within an hour.

However this warning should be taken with a grain of salt, previous warnings for the past week have not brought about any dangerous weather.

The weather report for Friday also calls for showers and risk of a thunderstorm in the afternoon.

The sunshine is expected to return on Saturday and continue through the early portions of next week.

View Castanet's weather page here.

Teen killer allowed to leave jail

A British Columbia man who was 15 when he murdered four people, including his parents, will be allowed an unescorted temporary absence from prison.

James Ruscitti is serving a life sentence for the 1996 slayings of Rocco and Marilyn Ruscitti, his brother's 17-year-old girlfriend and a boarder who lived in their home near 100 Mile House, 500 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

In a written decision released Wednesday, the National Parole Board granted Ruscitti's request for a 60-day absence to attend a residential substance abuse treatment facility on Vancouver Island.

Now 33, the parole board members noted that Ruscitti is considered a moderate to high risk for violent reoffending but found he has made progress in his rehabilitation.

"You have now voiced remorse for your crimes," the decision said.

"You apologized to the victims and said you regret your crimes. This appears to be genuine."

The unescorted absence is the first step in what parole board members called a "very gradual" reintegration into society.

As a youth at the time of the crime, Ruscitti has been eligible for parole since 2004.

Ruscitti's explanation for the murders has changed over time, the decision noted.

In the "honest" version given to board members at the parole hearing this month, Ruscitti said he was entrenched in a drug culture by age 15.

"There were concerns of your abusing and torturing animals, encountering disciplinary problems in school, and using drugs from an early age," the decision said.

Though he sold drugs and used marijuana, cocaine and LSD at the time of his crime, Ruscitti was "sober and enraged" when he and a 14-year-old accomplice shot the victims at point-blank range on June 22, 1996.

Living on his own, dealing drugs, Ruscitti returned home one day to find his residence had been searched. He found out his father and the boarder, Dennis O'Hara, were responsible.

"Trying to impress your criminal associates," he planned revenge, the board members said.

After the murders, Ruscitti left his two-month-old niece in a room with her dead mother, Christine Clarke, his brother's girlfriend.

"You did not give any thought to killing the infant but you did very little to make efforts to ensure the child would be rescued," the decision said.

The baby was found two days later so dehydrated doctors felt she was within hours of death.

Ruscitti shot all four victims. Chad Bucknell also shot O'Hara.

"You took full responsibility for the violence and explained you were a thrill seeker trying to be a 'gangster' and had major anger issues against three of your four victims," the board members said.

Ruscitti, who was adopted, had two sisters and an older brother. A previous board decision said he has undergone offender-victim mediation with one sibling, who supports his release.

But the latest decision said the victims' family members want no contact with him and one of the conditions of his unescorted absence is that he make no attempt to get in touch.

Bucknell was granted full parole three years ago.

The Canadian Press


Woman pens right-to-die manifesto

“Today, now, I go cheerfully and so thankfully into that good night. Jonathan, the courageous, the faithful, the true and the gentle, surrounds me with company. I need no more.”

So ends a heart-wrenching open letter penned by 83-year-old Bowen Island resident Gillian Bennett, published online Monday shortly after her death.

According to CTV Vancouver, the dementia sufferer had spent the weekend saying her goodbyes with her son and daughter. When the time came, she pulled a foam mattress from her home to a favourite spot outdoors, took a drink of whiskey, and swallowed two barbiturates.

“There comes a time, in the progress of dementia, when one is no longer competent to guide one’s own affairs. I want out before the day when I can no longer assess my situation, or take action to bring my life to an end,” Bennett wrote.

“Understand that I am giving up nothing that I want by committing suicide. All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but having not the faintest idea of who I am.”

Her husband Jonathan said it took only about three minutes for her to lose consciousness.

Being that it’s against Canadian law to help anyone die by suicide, he took no part in the process. He ate breakfast with her, accompanied her on a short walk around their property, and waited by her side.

“I just sat there and held her hand, and within about half an hour she was dead,” he said. “That’s it. That’s the whole story.”

Jonathan described his wife, a retired therapist, as feisty, smart, and always eager to help others, especially her two children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

She also felt passionately about the right to die, which fueled her desire to share her story.

“She was trying to strike a blow for righteousness,” he said of her letter, which she spent months writing and perfecting. “This was a strong, strong conviction she had.”

In Bennett’s poignant manifesto, she described the toll dementia had already taken on her life – the slow loss of her memory and identity – and her desire to avoid becoming a burden to her family and others.

“I can live or vegetate for perhaps ten years in hospital at Canada’s expense, costing anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year,” she said. “Nurses, who thought they were embarked on a career that had great meaning, find themselves perpetually changing my diapers and reporting on the physical changes of an empty husk. It is ludicrous, wasteful and unfair.”

She also urged readers to write a living will, detailing under what circumstances they would not want to be resuscitated, and expressed a hope that physician-assisted suicide would one day be available in her country.

The legal ban was challenged in 2012 by ALS sufferer Gloria Taylor, the BC Civil Liberties Association, and others. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in their favour, but the decision was overturned last year in the province's top court. 

The case is scheduled to move to the Supreme Court of Canada in October.

In the meantime, Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada, said there are many people in similar situations to Bennett’s who take their lives early knowing they must see the process through by themselves.

Morris applauded Bennett for speaking out, and believes stories like hers help the public see the issue as more than just academic.

“I think it’s those stories that we’ll look back at and say, ‘That’s what changed the law,’” she said.

Hwy. 99 partially open

12:10 p.m. update:

7:20 p.m. update:

Highway 99 is now reduced to single lane alternating traffic with a pilot car, due to the mudslide from Lillooet to 35 km north of the municipality. Delays up to 20 minutes expected.

3:15 p.m. update:

Highway 99 is still closed, DriveBC says the next update will be at 6 p.m.

Several people were stranded overnight on Highway 99 north of Lillooet, after four vehicles got caught between two mudslides that closed a section of the road.

A storm hit the region at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.

Transportation Ministry spokesman Dan Palesch said 10 to 12 smaller slides came down in various locations through a segment of 10 to 12 kilometres.

The ministry's Drive BC site said Wednesday that the highway remains shut down in both directions from Lillooet to 35 kilometres north of the community.

There's no word on when it will reopen, and motorists were being advised to use Highway 12 and Highway 1 instead.

Lillooet Mayor Dennis Bontron said no injuries have been reported from the slides.

"The slide came behind them and a slide was in front of them so they weren't able to continue on or go back," he said.

The storm also dumped hail that damaged one home, Bontron said. 

The next update will be at 3 p.m.

Were you caught between the slides? Tell us your story, send photos and video to [email protected]

A mudslide has closed Highway 99.

The route is blocked in both directions from Lillooet, to 35 km north of Lillooet, between Cache Creek and Lillooet. 

No local detour is available.

Alternate route via Highway 12 and Highway 1.

DriveBC has no estimated time of opening.

The Next update is scheduled for noon.

Orphaned bruin released

An orphaned, yearling grizzly dubbed Littlefoot is once again wandering free in the wilds of southeastern British Columbia, saved by a unique pilot project between the province and two animal welfare groups.

The little bear weighed just under 13 kilograms when he was found in the spring after hibernating alone, following the death of his mother last fall.

Although older than most bears accepted by the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, officials in the ministries of environment and forests agreed the bruin could receive care for a short period, and he had grown to a healthy 44 kilograms before being released Tuesday.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) captured Littlefoot, transported him to the society and arranged his release in a berry-rich site close to where he was found, but far from humans.

Thirteen grizzlies have been released since 2008, when the pilot project began, but Littlefoot is the first yearling given a new chance at life, and he will wear a satellite collar for 18 months so his progress can be tracked.

The project is meant to determine whether orphaned grizzlies can survive after being released back into the wild, and similar rehabilitation projects are supported by the IFAW in Russia and India.

The Canadian Press

Man killed during rodeo

A horse race down a steep mountain slope in the B.C. Interior has claimed the life of a 44-year-old man.

The accident occurred Sunday afternoon at the Redstone Rodeo near the community of Alexis Creek, about 660 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Coroner Barb McLintock says some of the horses in the "high-risk sport" got too close to each other and three riders tumbled off their horses at a high rate of speed.

Jason Coutlee, of Merritt, B.C., was rushed to a medical clinic in Alexis Creek but died en route to Kelowna General Hospital.

Rodeo president Gerald William says eight riders were competing for a top prize of about $1,100, and the death was the first in the event's 16-year history.

The coroners service is investigating.

The Canadian Press

Supertankers: 'pure madness'

Touring the Douglas Channel on British Columbia's North Coast has convinced federal Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair it would be "pure madness" to allow supertankers carrying raw bitumen to ply the narrow passage.

The New Democratic Party leader said Tuesday the planned route for exporting oil to Asia "makes no sense," and that's why his party would introduce legislation barring the transport option if it was in power.

"It's not just a question of personal opinion," Mulcair told reporters in Vancouver after spending the previous day in the region to the north.

"We'd set out clear criteria that would make sure a supertanker would no longer be allowed along that pristine coast."

The 90-kilometre-long Douglas Channel links the Pacific Ocean to the District of Kitimat, the would-be terminus of the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

The project would see hundreds of tankers a year ply the channel carrying bitumen from the Alberta oilsands.

Mulcair met Monday with officials from Kitimat and with leaders of the Haisla First Nation and Gitga'at Nation of Hartley Bay.

Asked about the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision last month that granted aboriginal title for the first time to the Tsilhqot'in Nation who live in B.C.'s Interior, Mulcair said an NDP government would establish a "nation-to-nation" relationship with First Nations.

Respecting First Nations' inherent rights, treaty rights and Canada's international obligations is not only "the right thing to do legally, but the smart thing to do economically," he said.

There have been about 120 court rulings that show aboriginal rights are not being respected, he said.

"If you don't get it right with regard to First Nations, a lot of development projects in this country will not go through.

"We've got to start listening to the courts instead of fighting with them."

The Canadian Press

200 hit with ID fraud

Police believe three suspects used stolen mail such as driver's licences, wills and immigration documents to commit fraud against about 200 people across the Metro Vancouver region.

RCMP say the investigation began with a complaint about the suspicious purchase of iPhones at a Burnaby computer store by a person who then rented a vehicle using another identity.

Police say they ultimately seized about 200 pieces of identification at a home in Squamish.

Thirty-three-year-old Shawn Lundrigan and 22-year-old Kimberly McSweeney have been arrested and are facing multiple counts of fraud and identity theft, while 38-year-old Paul Hebert is wanted for the same charges but remains at large.

Mounties believe the mail was stolen from homes and mailboxes in Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Langley and Squamish.

Police are warning the public to be vigilant about checking credit card histories and bank statements.

The Canadian Press

Missing hikers found safe

Update 12 p.m.

Two hikers have walked out to safety after an unexpected night in the rugged backcountry of Vancouver's North Shore mountains.

The man and woman are in good condition, despite their ordeal.

They became separated from a larger group Monday on the Howe Sound Crest trail, a demanding, 11-hour hike between the Cypress Mountain resort in West Vancouver and Porteau Cove north of Vancouver.

West Vancouver Police Const. Jeff Palmer says the pair showed up at the Lions Bay fire hall early Tuesday morning.

Two residents from New York are missing in the rugged backcountry of Vancouver's North Shore mountains.

The man and woman became separated from a larger group Monday on the Howe Sound Crest trail, a demanding hike between the Cypress Mountain resort in West Vancouver and Porteau Cove, along Howe Sound, north of Vancouver.

Most hiking guides advise taking two days to complete the rough 29-kilometre trail, but the group may have intended to complete the estimated 11-hour hike in a single day.

Teams from North Shore Rescue and Lions Bay Rescue began searching from each end of the trail at about 9 Monday night and met in the middle overnight without finding any sign of the missing pair.

There's concern the man and woman, in their 20s, are not carrying any extra food, clothing, water, flashlights or provisions for an overnight stay.

New teams of searchers were heading into the area at first light.

The Canadian Press

Severe thunderstorm watch

A severe thunderstorm watch has been issued for the Okanagan Valley.

Environment Canada says conditions are favourable for the development of dangerous thunderstorms that may be capable of producing strong wind gusts and torrential rain.

They are calling for periods of heavy rain that could cause localized flooding, especially near creeks.

Intense lightning is also likely with any storm that develops, and hail is also possible in the forecast.

The watch is in effect for Central, North and South Okanagan, including Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton.

Taken down in Mexico

A Vancouver-area man wanted by police for allegedly playing a role in the deaths of two associates of the notorious Bacon brothers is behind bars in British Columbia after his arrest in Mexico.

Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pound of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team says Cory Vallee was arrested in Guadalajara, Mexico, last Wednesday, escorted back to BC, and appeared in court on Monday where he was remanded in custody.

The RCMP announced in 2011 that Vallee had been charged with conspiracy to murder the Bacons and their associates and with first-degree murder for the deaths of Jonathan Barber and Kevin LeClair.

Barber was killed in hail of gunfire in May 2008 as he drove a vehicle owned by one of the Bacon brothers through Burnaby, and LeClair died the following February during a daytime shooting at a shopping centre in the small Fraser Valley community of Walnut Grove.

Jamie Bacon is in jail awaiting trial on murder and conspiracy charges, while brother Jarrod is in prison for his part in a drug conspiracy. Jonathan Bacon was gunned down in Kelowna in August 2011.

Pound says Vallee is expected to make his next court appearance on Thursday.

The Canadian Press

Investigation into tailings breach

The BC government has appointed a three-member panel to conduct an independent investigation of a massive tailings pond breach at a gold and copper mine.

The government is also ordering other mine companies to conduct safety inspections of their own tailings ponds by Dec. 1, and to have the inspections reviewed by outside engineering firms.

Mines Minister Bill Bennett says the independent inquiry will be paid for by Imperial Metals, owner of the Mount Polley mine where two weeks ago the dam failure sent millions of litres of waste water into a network of salmon-bearing lakes and streams near the town of Likely, in the province's central Interior.

Bennett says the panel geotechnical engineers and mining experts will explore the cause of the failure and make recommendations by the end of January 2015.

When the Mount Polley dam breached two weeks ago, Imperial Metals said there was no sign of trouble, however an environmental consultant's report warned the pond was growing at an unsustainable rate.

BC's Environment Ministry said over the weekend that initial tests on the slurry from the mine show the waste poses no risk to humans but may harm aquatic life.

The Canadian Press

Man faces 37 new gun charges

A Langley, B.C., man now faces many more charges related to alleged trafficking of firearms and other weapons.

Sgt. Lindsey Houghton, with B.C.'s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, says an additional 37 charges have been laid against Bradley Friesen, who faces a total of 46 counts.

The 37-year-old was charged last week with nine counts related to trafficking, possession, and importing or exporting of unauthorized weapons.

Houghton says the additional charges laid Friday include 10 counts of possession contrary to a prohibition order, six counts of careless use of a firearm related to storage regulations, and multiple counts linked to trafficking, possession and importing or exporting of weapons.

Numerous weapons, including assault rifles, a sub-machine gun, many rounds of ammunition and silencers were found during a search of a Langley home.

Friesen remains in custody in Surrey, awaiting his next court date.

The Canadian Press

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