Farm search continues

UPDATE 5:10 p.m.

The massive police search at a farm on Salmon River Road may have to do with an incident earlier this year.

Last week, RCMP warned the public about an incident on Salmon River Road in which a sex trade worker was threatened by a man with a gun.

The incident happened in late August, and police warned the suspect may be a risk to public safety, especially to women on the sex trade.

The suspect met the victim through an online website used by sex trade workers.

According to court records, Wayne Sagmoen, born in 1980, has been charged with numerous offences, including disguising his face with intent to commit an offence, intentionally discharging a firearm, uttering threats, possessing weapon for a dangerous purpose and other offences.

A Canada411 search found Sagmoen's name connected to the property police are currently searching at 2290 Salmon River Rd.

Castanet spoke to a man who asked to remain anonymous who was told by police they were searching for a firearm.

ORIGINAL: 4:50 p.m.

As RCMP continue to search a farm on Salmon River Road, there is still no word on what they're looking for.

Police scoured the sprawling property for a second day, Friday.

Several officers with long sticks, shovels and rakes, were seen walking away from one of the several outbuildings, while two other officers entered another of the structures.

The farm also has some half dozen horses, and police removed at least one of those from a corral Friday afternoon.

Police from several detachments have been brought in to help with the investigation, and curious neighbours have been driving slowly past.

“I hope it's not another Pickton,” said one man in a pickup, referring to notorious serial killer Robert Pickton, who killed numerous women on his Lower Mainland pig farm.

Last year, three women went missing from the Yankee Flats area round the Salmon River Road farm. But a family member says police contacted him, and the search is not related to the missing women.

"This investigative effort and execution of a search warrant is in relation to an ongoing investigation," RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said Thursday. "No further information is being released at this time, in order to ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation."


Just trying to survive

There is growing concern over homeless people in Vernon.

With several living in Linear Park, the problem is impossible to ignore, but Castanet spoke to some of those living rough, and they say the public has nothing to fear.

“It's from a couple of people that are really aggressive when they panhandle, and that's what's causing part of that issue of them being scared,” said one resident of the homeless camp.

“We're not violent, we're not hurting anybody. We're just trying to survive," said another man.

Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council, said those aggressively asking for money downtown are not necessarily homeless.

“I really have empathy for the businesses. It's not a good feeling to be afraid to go to work. Not everyone who is homeless has an addiction or is in that desperate lifestyle,” said Sharkey, adding some panhandlers have a place to live.

The underlying issue is addiction, she said, and “as a society we really need to wrap our heads around how we are going to address it.... We do know that addictions lead to desperation and criminal acts. So if we handle addictions differently, if we take the criminal element out of it, that's when you see some real changes."

When the homeless camp moved from Polson Park to Linear Park, it shocked a lot of people.

“It's been an eye opener for the community,” said Sharkey. “We actually all have the same goal, whether you look at that population with empathy or fear and anger, everybody agrees that it's not OK to have people sleeping outside in our parks.... everyone wants a solution to this problem.”

Homeless numbers up

Kelly Fehr calls Vernon's homeless situation situation a travesty.

The John Howard Society co-executive director says 44 people slept outdoors in Vernon Thursday night.

That number is based on the latest homeless count by the Howard Society and Social Planning Council.

The bi-annual count found 153 people who identified as homeless. While some stay at shelters, Howard House or addiction recovery centres, there were others with nowhere to go.

“Last year at this time, there were 33 people who were living rough outside of shelters," Fehr said Friday.

But there is some good news.

B.C. Housing has authorized an extension of the shelter’s 23 extreme weather mats to have them open 24 hours a day instead overnight only. The extension takes effect Nov. 1, and Fehr said that’s expected to increase usage because homeless people won’t have to pack up every morning and find somewhere else to go to stay warm.

One area of concern is an increase in the number of homeless women.

The women's transition house reported there were 10 homeless women in the city last year, and that number has doubled.

“We know there is a major need for housing and recovery options for women in our community, so that's what we're working towards addressing,” said Fehr.

Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council, said the high cost of housing continues to be a major obstacle for many.

“For people who are marginalized, they get to a place where there really are no options,” said Sharkey.

A more detailed report on the homeless situation will be presented to city council on Monday.


Close eye on local arenas

In the wake of the tragedy in Fernie where three people lost their lives due to an ammonia leak in the town's arena, Vernon officials are addressing local concerns.

In a press release, city officials said local arenas are Technical Safety BC (formerly the BC Safety Authority) certified with the highest risk assessed status for safety procedures and maintenance possible.

This is an annual certification and the facilities undergo thorough audits to maintain it. The City also participates in the WorkSafe BC Certificate of Recognition audit program and the refrigeration plant procedures are a component of the annual audits. 

The city completes annual maintenance of the refrigeration systems in the off season with certified contractors that follow strict protocols to complete the required work.

All three of the refrigeration plants are monitored by sensors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Safety procedures include checks on each of the systems at regular intervals throughout each day by City of Vernon staff with Power Engineer Certificates. 

Although tragic, when an accident occurs, it serves to heighten the awareness and reinforce the need for us to maintain a high level of safety in city facilities.

Safety probed at O'Keefe

A WorkSafe BC inspector's report states an occupational health and safety regulation was contravened during an incident last week in which O'Keefe Ranch general manager Glen Taylor was seriously injured. He remains in Vancouver General Hospital.

The ranch reports Taylor will be out of commission for a while and his return date is unknown at this time.

The Coldstream councillor was working at O'Keefe Ranch late one night last week when the accident occurred.

"An incident occurred Thursday, Oct. 11 at approximately (9:55 p.m.)," the report reads. "A worker received a serious injury as a result of the incident.

"Material was being transported by mobile equipment and it was not loaded or secured to prevent movement of the load which could create a hazard to workers," according to the report. "This is in contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety regulation section 16.44(1)."

However, the report further stated the ranch has addressed the requirement and will be ensuring all loads are secure prior to moving them.

Management of the historic landmark was also censured for not immediately informing WorkSafe BC of the accident.

"We discussed the requirement for immediate reporting and I referred the workplace to the 24 hours emergency reporting number," said inspector Steven Marino. He said that matter was also closed.

O'Keefe was also required to submit a report of the full investigation to the Workers Compensation Board within 30 days of the incident.

A statement from the ranch issued late Thursday stated that Taylor would be missed during 'Field of Screams', O'Keefe's biggest annual fundraising event for the ranch and said volunteers for the event are needed.

“Everyone at the ranch wishes Glen a quick recovery," said Kelly MacIntosh, events and marketing coordinator. "We are optimistic that he will be back at the ranch as soon as he is able. We would all appreciate the support of the community through volunteerism at our fundraising events this month.”

Down to basics for trail

With construction work about to start at the northern end of the Okanagan Rail Trail, politicians have started talking about the basics, including toilets, garbage bins and access points, while one Vernon councillor warned the committee not to get bogged down on minor details.

A rail trail 'vision session' among members of the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee began with a half hour discussion on whether established toilets or porta potties should be placed in areas along the trail for hikers and bikers.

Electoral area C director Mike Macnabb urged the committee to start small, get public input and then reconsider the matter.

As discussion continued, Macnabb questioned costs and efforts for the 48-kilometre trail between Coldstream and Kelowna.

“Somehow we've identified this as a special trail. It's a trail,” Macnabb stressed. “What are we trying to accomplish here, that this is a really unique trail?”

“Yes,” GVAC chair Juliette Cunningham bluntly replied. “It's not like any other. This, I believe, is going to be a world-class amenity.”

"This started as a visionary (session) for the ORT," reminded Vernon councillor Catherine Lord. She stood up and urged the committee to come up with a comprehensive plan to "move forward in a logical way.”

Construction of the trail has begun quicker than anticipated and some politicians fear being caught flat-footed.

“Thousands of people (will) use it, compared to the Grey Canal trail,” said Vernon director Akbal Mund. “The point is to get this trail up and running next year and I think that's the public perception too.”

Coldstream director Doug Dirk's call for the establishment of a separate advisory committee that would include user groups, including Ribbons of Green and the North Okanagan Naturalists Club, to provide input was overruled.

Instead, the committee approved a motion to have staff report back on 2018 budget options that would provide basic amenities for the protection of the trail.  

Returning to the park

A woman who suffered years of addiction and homelessness returned to where it all began Thursday – Polson Park.

Linda Price said she ran away from her Williams Lake home 40 years ago, and ended up sleeping rough in Polson Park for two months at the age of 12.

“I fell into a false sense of freedom from prescription drugs and alcohol,” Price told a crowd in the park where they were marking a day of remembrance for those in the street population who lost their lives over the last year.

Price said she had fled from a world of poverty, alcoholism, mistrust and abuse yet her life fell into the same pattern. It took many years to overcome the downward spiral caused by drugs.

Now clean, she said, “There is hope.”

“Once again this year we've lost 15 men and women and that's not from overdoses,” said Rev. Chuck Harper, who organizes the annual event.

Harper said people had died from illness, including cancer, and from murder – referring to the death of Willie Bartz in July.

He also said there were a lot of missing people in this community as well as others across the province and the nation. He did not elaborate.

“We need to speak loudly and clearly about the homeless and poverty in our city,” Harper said, blaming the media for the uproar over homeless camps in local parks.

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