Penticton's Topflight helicopter training school given award

Topflight lauded with award

Penticton's Topflight Elite Training has been awarded a BC Export Award in recognition of its excellence in service.

Topflight offers helicopter pilot training, frequently used by the Royal Canadian Air Force, as well as chartered flights. This year, they were given the BC Export Award for Professional Services at the 38th annual iteration of the awards.

This particular award is presented to a company "that has provided expert advice, technical support or educational programs to international customers."

The 2021 awards ceremony included four categories, which were presented during a virtual ceremony on Feb. 16.

The presentation was hosted by Glacier Media's Kirk LaPointe, editor in chief of Business in Vancouver, and included interviews with BC Trade Minister George Chow and BC Minister of Economic Recovery Ravi Kahlon.

Topflight has been a BC business for over 70 years, providing advanced and mountain flight training to military, police, corporate and civilian pilots.

Penticton Speedway has pending sale

Speedway changing hands

The Penticton Speedway is getting new owners, ending a 24-year era of the Aantjes family running the popular track.

A sale is pending that would see the Speedway taken over by an investment group led by Trevor and Ingo Seibert of Avion Developments. Current owner Johnny Aantjes assures patrons that the track will continue to operate.

"The condition of the property remaining as a functioning Speedway is a top priority for the sale. This transaction will help maintain racing at a higher level for many years to come," Aantjes said.

"The new potential owners are third generation racers. The lead partner,Trevor Seibert, is the co-designer, engineer, constructor and founding partner of Area 27. This group knows motorsports, has a deep history in it, and are clearly committed to the South Okanagan."

Siebert is excited about the possibilities at the Speedway, should the sale be finalized.

"We will continue to serve the existing fans and various racing groups while at the same time investing into facility improvements and expanding the venue offerings. As we complete the due diligence Avion and its team will provide more information regarding the future plans," he said.

Aantjes and his wife Jasmine say that even after the sale, they will continue to run their charitable programs, like the Penticton Breakfast Club, through the Speedway Foundation.

They have now set their sights on reviving horse racing at Osoyoos' Desert Park.

Beach attacker sentencing delayed as lawyer alleges breach of rights during Thomas Kruger-Allen's arrest

Attack sentencing hits snag

Sentencing for the man guilty of a brutal attack on a stranger at Okanagan Beach hit a snag Wednesday, as counsel for defendant Thomas Kruger-Allen revealed he was planning a Charter challenge with respect to the circumstances of his client's arrest in 2019.

Kruger-Allen pleaded guilty to the May 2019 one-punch assault that left Brad Eliason, then 28, in a medically-induced coma after brain surgery, and facing seizures for the rest of his life.

Court proceedings to finally sentence Kruger-Allen for the crime began Tuesday in Penticton, and were expected to wrap up Wednesday, until his lawyer James Pennington began proceedings by announcing his intent to file a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge, saying Kruger-Allen was prepared to testify about the circumstances of his arrest.

Justice Geoffrey Gomery immediately had concerns, given that he had previously granted a motion to allow Kruger-Allen to appear via video from custody, rather than the customary in-person standard for sentencings.

"There is a real issue as to whether the court can conduct a portion of the trial that involves the taking of evidence via video,” Gomery said.

“I granted the [request] to attend by video on the basis that I would not have to be hearing from him in person other than the right of allocution [a formal statement made to the court], and there certainly wouldn’t be a cross-examination conducted.”

The Crown is seeking five to six years' incarceration for Kruger-Allen, while Pennington has asked for a lighter sentence between 12 and 18 months. Kruger-Allen is entitled to 783 days of credit for time served, according to the Crown, which would be subtracted from any sentence imposed by the judge.

It was Crown's understanding that the defence's sentencing recommendation would not be altered by the result of any Charter challenge.

Nonetheless, proceedings were adjourned until Friday, March 5, ostensibly to allow Kruger-Allen to attend in person for the Charter challenge discussion.

But before adjournment Wednesday, Justice Gomery allowed both sides to conclude their sentencing arguments.

Pennington reiterated his argument from Tuesday that Kruger-Allen, 23, is remorseful and deserves another chance.

Crown counsel Nashina Devji reiterated her support for a lengthy sentence that would place Kruger-Allen in federal rather than provincial penitentiary custody, citing more programming and funding available in federal facilities for Indigenous offenders.

Kruger-Allen also got to have his say.

"I am truly sorry for what happened," he said over video from Okanagan Correctional Centre, adding that he has a history of trying to drown pain and trauma from his upbringing with alcohol.

He addressed the victim, Eliason, by saying "Maybe he can forgive me when he’s ready, if he’s ready ever ... I just hope one day that I can make it right."

The matter will continue in Penticton Supreme Court next Friday.

Kruger-Allen is also facing more charges related to an alleged home invasion that took place in October 2019, while he was out on bail for the charges related to the attack on Eliason.


Naramata Community Market coming back with fresh ideas

Market under new direction

The Naramata Community Market will be opening up this summer with a fresh take, with the NaramataSlow Society bringing the farmers market back with a new location.

Set to launch Wednesday, June 2, the past six months have had dedicated “Slow” members Dawn Lennie, Rene Mehrer, and Jacquie Carlson laying the groundwork for a newly imagined market.

Focusing on the farmer’s market principles of “make it, bake it, grow it”, the goal is to showcase a variety of in-season fruits and vegetables and locally made food products, as well as convenience meals, snacks and locally crafted goods.

“Our aim is to create a uniquely Naramatian market. In addition to local farmers, we are calling on all Naramata-based green thumbs, artists, makers, bakers and even kids with a side hustle to populate our community market. We are open to co-operative approaches and out-of-the-box thinking,” Dawn Lennie, member of the Naramata Slow said in a press release.

The market plan is to encourage community and tradition while offering a schedule of weekly community events. Even the crowd-pleasing “cherry pit spit” will return, if COVID approved.

The 2021 lineup is looking at some new additions, including a formal commitment from the Okanagan Seed Savers. “The passionate group that supports local seed saving, seed diversity, growing and education, will be bringing focused tastings and teachings to our village” NaramataSlow organizer, Jacquie Carlson said.

The Naramata Community Market will operate every Wednesday from June 2 through Sept. 29 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Setting up shop at Manitou Beach Park, the market is ‘an ideal option for after-work shopping and take-out dining.’

Naramata’s famous local beach is wheelchair accessible, offers ample parking and brand new washroom facilities.

All COVID best practices will be firmly in place and well-enforced, ensuring a safe and fun experience for all.

Anyone interested in hosting a table, volunteering or being involved in this year’s market can find out more information by emailing [email protected] to collaborate.

Follow Naramata Slow on Facebook and Instagram for updates or visit NaramataSlow.com.

Summerland council gives preliminary thumbs-up to affordable housing project

Affordable housing a go?

A 60-unit affordable housing complex in Summerland has been given a first thumbs-up from district council.

The project, proposed for 8709 Jubilee Road East, requires rezoning of the lot for high-density usage. Summerland council voted unanimously to give the proposal first and second reading, and send it to public hearing at a meeting March 22.

Turning Points Collaborative Society is behind the proposal, a Vernon-based non-profit which has recently been a hot topic of conversation in Vernon and has sought to explain the reasoning and results behind supportive housing projects.

In Summerland at Monday's meeting, council heard that the five-storey building would host 13 one-bedroom units, 37 two-bedroom suites and 10 three-bedroom apartments.

"The proposed housing project meets the BC Housing and CMHC accessibility requirements including barrier-free common areas and more than 30 per cent of the units will be designed to meet accessibility standards. In summary, this project will provide an affordable home for people living and working in the nearby communities, as well as seniors, people with disabilities, families, and women and children leaving abusive family homes," reads a report from the developer.

The developer held an information session last week with 63 people in attendance.

Portions of the units would be set aside for low-income earners.

Council will discuss the matter further at a meeting after the public hearing.

Victim of brutal Penticton beach attack shares trauma at sentencing hearing for attacker, as lawyers debate jail time

How much jail time?

UPDATE: 4:10 p.m.

The Crown is seeking a sentence between five and six years for Thomas Kruger-Allen's assault of a man at Okanagan Beach in 2019, which left the man facing brain surgery and potentially a lifetime of intermittent seizures.

In Penticton court Tuesday, Crown prosecutor Nashina Devji asked the judge for the sentence, after a morning laying out the circumstances and allowing victim Brad Eliason and his ex-wife Chelcie Townend to say their piece.

Then, defence lawyer James Pennington had his say, asking the judge for a sentence "somewhere between 12 and 18 months," citing Kruger-Allen's difficult childhood and purported improvement and new outlook on life after undergoing counselling in incarceration.

"When you look at the circumstances of his upbringing, one may ask, did he ever have a chance at all?” Pennington asked.

“At his age, 23, one should not be too quick to close the book on him."

Kruger-Allen is entitled to 783 days of credit for time served, according to the Crown, which would be subtracted from any sentence imposed by the judge.

Sentencing is expected to conclude Wednesday.

ORIGINAL: 12:50 p.m.

"We will never be the same. We will never have the life we dreamed of. It was all taken away the night Thomas Kruger-Allen decided to assault my husband."

The sentencing hearing for the man behind a brutal attack on a stranger at Okanagan Beach is underway in Penticton court Tuesday, with emotional victim impact statements from the man assaulted and his now ex-wife.

On May 3, 2019, Brad Eliason, then 28, was knocked backward onto concrete after a single, allegedly unprovoked punch from Thomas Kruger-Allen. Kruger-Allen pleaded guilty to the assault.

According to Crown prosecutor Nashina Devji, who opened proceedings by relaying several different witness' statements in her submissions Tuesday morning, Eliason had come across Kruger-Allen in a verbal and physical altercation with a pair of young women at a fire pit on Okanagan Beach, and had simply asked "What's going on?" before Kruger-Allen, in a drunken rage, turned to Eliason and hit him, then ran away.

Devji said multiple witnesses reported that an intoxicated Kruger-Allen had placed his hand on the buttocks of one of the young women, then when she protested, he punched her chest. After another young woman tried to intervene and diffuse the situation, he hit her in the face. At that point, Eliason approached on his way back to his own fire pit, and was also punched.

Eliason needed brain surgery, was placed in a medically-induced coma for months, and continues to suffer seizures. Court heard that the incident and subsequent medical and physical ramifications lost him his job, his house, his dog and his marriage.

Devji outlined Kruger-Allen's background, describing an "exceptionally sad childhood," as both the victim of and witness to sexual and domestic violence. Citing a psychiatric report, she said Kruger-Allen has ongoing issues with depression, anxiety, impulse control and anger management, all of which are exacerbated by his substance abuse.

She also outlined his extensive and violent criminal history. Kruger-Allen was out on bail for another violent assault at the time of the attack on Eliason, and currently has a pending trial for a home invasion scheduled for this May.

"It appears that without severe and significant intervention, Mr. Kruger-Allen poses a severe risk to the community that he is in,” Devji said.

Eliason appeared in court to read his victim impact statement. Devji explained ahead of the brief statement that Eliason had been struggling to put words to paper about his experience for months, working with multiple therapists, and had only completed it Monday night.

"My wife left me, I lost my house, I lost my pets, I cannot work," Eliason said, then adding his concern for the young women Kruger-Allen had been embroiled with on that fateful night. "I wouldn’t change what I did, at the same time I apologize I wasn’t able to help earlier."

His ex-wife Chelcie Townend had a longer story to share with the court. She described the blind panic she felt May 3, 2019, the horror of arriving at the emergency room to find her husband with his head swollen beyond recognition, vomiting blood and screaming.

"I sat in his bed holding him as he rocked back and forth in agonizing pain," Townend said.

Eliason spent months in a medically-induced coma, then slowly came back to life in the summer, as Townend described. She said they had a "beautiful month" together, before he needed to return for more surgery, and serious seizures followed.

"The amount of trauma on his brain was a lot, and it changed him,” she said, describing memory loss, anger, and outbursts that "terrified" her. It was all very different from the funny, kind and hardworking husband she knew before his brain injury.

"I went on to have panic attacks and PTSD. My hair fell out, I lost weight, I missed work. I was trying to hold it all together when my life was completely falling apart," Townend said, her voice catching with emotion.

“The saddest part of all of this is that we lost each other. We will never be the same."

The hearing will resume at 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon with Crown's recommendations for sentencing, and Castanet will have the update.

Oliver's annual Pig Out sticking with socially-distanced trail format for 2021

Pig Out fest returns as 'trail'

The South Okanagan's popular Pig Out festival is returning for its second year as "Pig Out Trails," a socially-distanced reimagining of the event made necessary in 2020 due to the pandemic.

In previous years, the festival had been held in one location, with food, drink and entertainment from the region centralized.

But on May 28 and 29 2021, the Trails are back, and participants will enjoy a carefully tailored, progressive wine touring itinerary through Oliver and Osoyoos with a maximum of 30 guests at any one time, anchored to engaging wine tasting experiences guided by some of the region’s most established winemakers in outdoor settings.

“We are confident that we have a safe and practical plan in place for this year’s well-loved Pig Out Trails, thanks to countless valuable learnings from the past year,” said Jennifer Busmann, executive director of Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country.

“The health and safety of our guests and local community is paramount and this format was proven last year to allow us to welcome visitors in carefully controlled ways, ensuring that we kept strictly to the social distancing requirements outlined by governing authorities at that time, while continuing our region’s legacy of fun, innovative and immersive experiences.”

The weekend kicks off with two wineries hosting multi-course guest chef dinners in safe outdoor settings, paired with a variety of local wines, on May 28.

On May 29, the Trails begin. Attendees will have dedicated, sanitized buses to travel to their winery stops.

This year's theme is "Escape the Pen," which organizers say "will be interpreted in different and unique ways at each of the 40 wineries that feature along 10 different trails, as they create thoughtful and outdoor tasting experiences, aimed at showcasing their portfolio of wines as well as educating guests in farming and grape growing practises and the art of winemaking."

Each stop will feature food from Oliver Eats Ltd., visiting guest chefs, or from select onsite restaurant partners including Terrafina at Hester Creek Estate Winery, Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, the culinary team at Phantom Creek Estates and Masala Bistro at Kismet Estate Winery. Vancouver’s Paella Guys, a popular addition in 2020, will also return.

The wineries featured on each specific trail won't be unveiled until the day of the event, to keep an air of intrigue.

Tickets for the Pig Out Trails ($99 per person plus tax) and the Pig Out Guest Chef Dinner ($129 per person plus tax and gratuity) are now available on the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country website.

Historic site in Keremeos gets much-needed cash influx

Help for historic site

A historic site in Keremeos is grateful and excited to be a recipient of new provincial funding, especially after a difficult year that kept their doors closed during the pandemic.

The Grist Mill and Gardens has been awarded $150,000 as part of the Heritage Infrastructure stream of the Province of BC’s Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program, specifically to restore and improve the heritage gardens and landscaping on the site, returning them to their original status as one of the best heritage gardens in Canada.

“Although this heritage site is best-known for its unique heritage buildings, such as Western Canada’s only working heritage waterwheel-powered flour mill, it has also played a pivotal role in the heritage garden interpretation, seed-saving and research movement over the last 30 years,” said Chris Mathieson, site general manager.

“One of the site’s first interpreters, Sharon Rempel, was a true visionary who saw, before many others, the value in collecting and preserving endangered and historically-important fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants. It’s not an understatement to say that her work in these gardens, which wasn’t even her main job, has had a massive influence on the modern popularity of artisanal bakeries that are using heritage grains, on the seed companies that are reintroducing heritage varieties for sale and now an apple cider industry specifically interested in the sorts of heritage apple varieties she collected for this site.”

The funding will be used over the next 12 to 18 months to re-landscape much of the site, with an aim of highlighting heritage seed research and collection done on site.

They will also be improving outdoor amenities by adding a multipurpose outdoor gazebo, interpretive signage and more.

More specifics will be shared later this spring and summer at a series of community engagement events held online and in the site’s gardens, as local COVID restrictions allow at the time.

The funds come after the mill had to be closed to the public for most of 2020, effectively cutting off its revenue stream.

Oliver woman who stole from elementary school PAC gets sentencing date in court

PAC thief faces fate

The former treasurer of the Oliver Elementary School parental advisory committee, who pleaded guilty to stealing funds intended for the school, is set to be sentenced in August.

Belinda Yorke pleaded guilty to theft over $5,000 in February, 2020. She was charged in 2019 after an 18-month RCMP investigation into missing funds that the Oliver Elementary School’s PAC uses to enhance students’ experience at the school.

Yorke resigned from her position on the committee in January 2018, when committee executives reported the alleged theft of funds to the Oliver RCMP, who in turn began their extensive investigation with assistance from the PAC and the BC Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch.

Defence counsel Michael Patterson said Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Penticton that Yorke is dropping her Charter application seeking a conditional sentence order — a non-custodial sentence served in the community, commonly referred to as house arrest — as an option for sentencing. Under the criminal code a conditional sentence is not available for those guilty of theft or fraud over $5,000.

Patterson said Monday that the later sentencing date was picked because there are possible changes coming in the form of federal legislation that would allow for greater use of conditional sentences and give judges more discretion in sentencing.

“There seems to be some movement to changes that relate, legislation, that relates to the use of CSO (conditional sentence orders),” Patterson said.

Health issues had previously delayed proceedings, with Patterson saying Yorke was in “serious ill health” in November 2020.

Yorke will appear in BC Supreme Court in Penticton on Aug. 23.

Penticton Art Gallery and local brewery teaming up

Mini-mural artists picked

The Penticton Art Gallery and Cannery Brewing have announced the artists who will be featured in their new public art project called Square.

In January, a call went out to artists interested in participating and nearly 80 applications poured in.

Eight local artists made the cut, and have been selected to create 4’ x 4’ mini murals which will be displayed at Cannery Brewing.

Zac Abney, Benji Andringa, Diane Bennett-Way, Liz Demer, Jolene Mackie, Diana Palmer, Stephanie Perry, and Gabrielle Strong will all see their art displayed.

Once the murals are completed in March, there will be a series of unveilings, and in the summer, the murals will be moved outside to Cannery Brewing’s Backyard patio space area. In the fall, the murals will be auctioned off to the public.

Ian Dyck, co-owner of Cannery Brewing, is thrilled with the diverse group of artists selected.

"They all have distinct styles, and we can’t wait to see what they create to display at our brewery," Dyck said.

Paul Crawford, curator at the Penticton Art Gallery, said, “Taking inspiration from the ArtsWells Festival’s wildly successful Mini Mural Project, we are thrilled to bring a similar program to our community.”

The original project was started in 2009 by the Wells, B.C. artist Caroline Anders as part of their annual festival. Once completed, the murals would be displayed at the Island Mountain Arts Art Gallery and then auctioned off.

“We are so excited about this project, and I hope this is something we can continue in years to come. There was an overwhelming number of applications received, so thank you to our great local artists. We would love to fill the town with as many murals as we can! Thank you to Cannery Brewing for partnering with us on this. They have always been huge supporters of the Gallery, and we can’t wait to see this project come to light," Crawford said.

Follow along with each artist’s progress through the Penticton Art Gallery and Cannery Brewing social media accounts through #Square2021 on Instagram.

More Penticton News