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Biggest stories, 2013, South Okanagan

Two homicides and a bombing shocked the residents of three small communities; an 8-year-old boy lost his life in a fire; and reports of an Osoyoos RCMP officer leaving his detachment under mysterious circumstances were among the biggest stories of 2013 in the South Okanagan.  

Here is a look back at these, and others, that unfolded in the region as the year comes to a close:

In March, the Southeast District Major Crime Unit confirmed they were investigating a homicide in Hedley.

A former trucker named Doug Smith was found shot to death in his trailer on Richter Road, after failing to show up for dinner at a friend's home.

Residents of Hedley at the time said they believed Smith was shot in the head and no weapon was found on the property.

There has been no confirmation of this from the RCMP. Smith's family stated in April that there were still few answers.

The RCMP has released little information since Smith was found.

In a separate incident, John Ike Koopmans is charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, stemming from an incident that took place on a rural property in Princeton on March 30.

On that date, Rosemary (Rose) Fox, 32, and Robert Keith Wharton, 44, both of Princeton, were found dead on their Old Hedley Road property.

A second man, who received life threatening wounds and was hospitalized, was also found at the scene. He was never identified.

Koopmans was arrested in a camper in the immediate area the following day. A preliminary inquiry for Koopmans is scheduled to begin Feb. 11, 2014.

An 8-year-old boy named Cody O' Connor was taken off life support in September, after sustaining severe burns in a motorhome fire that happened this past August in Oliver.

Cody suffered burns to 40 per cent of his upper body, after a fire broke out in the motorhome where he was staying with his family in the Centennial RV Park.

He was saved from the Aug. 28 blaze by Oliver Fire Chief Dan Skaros and taken to BC Children's Hospital for care.

There was an outpouring of support for his family after residents in Oliver and neighbouring communities learned of his death.

Then, in November, a  mobile home fire in Penticton claimed the life of  81-year-old Julianna Dorothy Dolores Bergum.

In other fire news, residents living in the Kilpoola Estates near Osoyoos were evacuated from their homes in August after an aggressive grass fire in the area grew in size.

In November, it was confirmed by the Osoyoos RCMP that Cst. Amit Goyal was suspended with pay.

However, little is known about the reason for his suspension or where he is currently residing.

Goyal's situation began making headlines after Steve Condon, a former Osoyoos resident, claimed he was set up to take the blame for two car thefts from Goyal's home.

Condon, who now lives in the Lower Mainland, says he left Osoyoos because of rumours he stole a 2009 black Audi S5, owned by Goyal, on Halloween of 2012 and another vehicle, a 2008 Ford Ranger, one week later.

After being interviewed by RCMP officers from Trail regarding the thefts, Condon took a lie detector test, which he passed.

Goyal is believed to have moved from the gated community he lived in on Cottonwood Drive in Osoyoos in June.

Recently, defense lawyers at the Penticton Courthouse confirmed crown counsel had suddenly begun dropping charges to any crimes where Goyal served as the principal investigator. There was also a memo dropping all traffic tickets.

One brother has already been sentenced and the other is preparing for his trial, after a homemade bomb was placed under a car in August in Oliver. 

Stephan Daoust, 19, was sentenced in December to 90 days in jail -- to be served on weekends -- and two years probation. A date for his brother Eric Daoust's trial is expected to  be set in early January.

In another high profile case, a South Okanagan man, who came to be known as 'pimp dad', was sentenced to nine and a half years, with credit given for time served, in April. He was accused of sexually assaulting and pimping out his stepdaughter.

In July, Keith Wiens, a former Summerland RCMP officer, was found guilty in the second degree murder of Lynn Kalmring and was ordered to spend a minimum of 13 years in prison before parole eligibility.

In Penticton, there were changes on the city council, following a by-election held in September.

Garry Litke was elected mayor and Katie Robinson won the vacant council seat.

Litke resigned from the council to run for mayor when former mayor Dan Ashton was elected MLA for the area.

Littke has claimed his priority as mayor will be to see the Penticton Regional Hospital expansion move ahead. Support for that expansion was one of the bigger stories of 2013 in Penticton.

Premier Christy Clark visited the hospital to show her support and doctors organized a town hall meeting and a rally to demonstrate the need for a new patient tower.

Most recently, the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen board voted to contribute an additional $80,000 towards the preparation of a business case for the project.

The increased funding was required as part of the board's commitment to fund 40 per cent of the cost of the business case.

Earlier this year, the hospital district received a request for $200,000, representing 40 per cent of the estimated $500,000 total cost to prepare the business case.

Now that the development of the case has progressed, it has been estimated that the total value will be very close to $700,000.

Although, plans to transform the iconic Okanagan Lake waterfront initially met with some resistance, residents seemed happy with the section that opened in late December.

The completed section begins where the first phase left off in June, near the lane that runs between Churchill Avenue and Lakeshore Drive, to Power Street. It includes a concrete walkway, landscaping with new trees and some new signage.

Work is continuing on the project from Power Street to the SS Sicamous, with the walkway on that portion fully anticipated to open at the end of the first week in January.

The city says it will complete the paving to the parking area sometime in the spring of 2014.

Numbers were low, but spirits were high at the first Challenge Penticton triathlon, which took place in August.

For the inaugural race, Challenge Penticton brought in close to 1,350 athletes, while Ironman Canada, held in Whistler the same day, had around 2,800.

Next year, the two races will be held on different days.

Most recently, Challenge Penticton requested a $25,000 grant from the RDOS board. The board agreed to $12,000.

Other stories that stood out in the South Okanagan included an expensive radio telescope reflector that was damaged while being transported via helicopter to the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton, and a late night boat crash into the popular Kiwanis Walking Pier in Penticton.

Penticton residents had mixed feelings about plans to bring a giant music festival to Penticton Indian Band land next summer.

The organizers of the Boonstock Music and Arts Festival made arrangements to change locations, after the Sturgeon County Council banned the festival, held for several years near Gibbons, Alberta.

The decision was made because of complaints about crime, traffic and other issues tied to the festival.  

Organizers have stated the festival will be a scaled down version from the one in Alberta.


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