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Crash fiasco cuts off town

Telus is refusing to replace the only outdoor payphone in the tiny town of Coalmont after it was destroyed in an alleged attempted murder.

The payphone is one of two in the community of about 80 people, which has no cell service. The other is in a derelict heritage hotel that now serves strictly as a pub. 

On March 29, a long-standing feud between two Coalmont men came to a climax when Roland Giroux, 65, attempted to run over Warren Spence with his car. Spence narrowly escaped the booth in time, but suffered an injury to his leg. 

"It's kind of bizarre," said Sgt. Barry Kennedy of the Princeton RCMP. "It looks like he drove by the phone booth, recognized the guy in the phone booth, turned his car around, lined it up and drove through the phone booth. 

"According to witnesses, after he ran over the victim, he apparently yelled at the guy that he was going to finish him off." 

Giroux, unable to restart his car after the crash, allegedly retrieved a baseball bat and began chasing Spence. Spence was able to get hold of a shovel, and Roland backed off, Kennedy said. 

Neither man will talk about what led to that point. 

Meanwhile, the phone has been destroyed. Telus says due to low usage, the high cost of replacement and the fact it has been damaged in the past, it will not be replaced. It's estimated that would cost $5,000. 

"When the phone was run down, the local team carefully looked at the phone, how often it was damaged and how often it was used," said Liz Sauve, with Telus media relations. "We found there is minimal usage and it's only two blocks from the Coalmont Hotel. So we have decided not to replace it. It sounds like it was primarily used in emergency situations."

However, that doesn't sit well with local Ole Juul, whose home overlooks the payphone.

"It's used quite a lot, about once a day and sometimes multiple times a day," Juul said. "I will give Telus this: from a business point of view, it doesn't get used at all."

However, since there is no cell service in the area and no plan to bring any in, the payphone served an important function as an emergency line for locals and many recreational visitors to the area, Juul said. 

Juul said the town is on the Trans Canada Trail. People on ATVs frequently stop by in the summer, and it has a lot of snowmobile traffic in the winter. These people make use of the phone for emergency and non-emergency calls. 

He recalls last summer hearing a commotion out by the payphone and seeing a person calling 911 for his friend, who was badly injured in an ATV crash.

"There was a guy in the phone booth, with his friend on the ATV. There was blood all over the place, he was all broken up. It took half an hour to get him off the quad," he said. "These are rare occasions, but once a year is important enough for someone's life."

Sauve said Telus has been in touch with the owner of the hotel, who lives on site, and has agreed that anyone in an emergency situation could use the payphone there. 

Juul says that would work – when the owner is home. 

"For example, over Christmas, the owners went away for four weeks. There's no guarantee the hotel is going to be open at all times because business just isn't that good," he said.  

Telus has also suggested that an emergency phone, a direct line to 911, might be "a good option" for the community. "They're smaller boxes and they're a lot less prone to vandalism, not only because of the smaller footprint, but most people recognize it's a dedicated emergency phone," Sauve said.

Telus does not supply those phones, however.  

Juul said he was not thrilled about the idea of an emergency-only phone, but "it would probably shut me up."

"We would, of course, like to have a real phone because of the people who are on summer time or weekends that won't bother to have a landline," Juul said. "Is that a luxury? I don't think it should be considered a luxury here. The phone's been there forever."

Giroux is facing an attempted murder charge and will be in court on May 20 in Penticton. 

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