A coroner’s inquest into the death of Fairmont Hot Springs resident Patrick Roy Wilder began in Invermere court this week.
The inquest was scheduled for at least two days, and as of the Valley Echo‘s press deadline on Monday, October 21st was ongoing, with the five-member inquest jury
having heard testimony from RCMP Constable David Hoekstra and Tony’s Greek Grill restaurant owner Tony Stergiou, as well as audio recordings of 9-1-1 calls made by Mr. Wilder the night he died.
Mr. Wilder, 58, was a lifelong valley resident as well as a founder and former owner of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. He died at his family home with police officers present on the evening of Tuesday, May 10th, 2011.
According to an RCMP press release at the time, Mr. Wilder took his life while police were on-scene.
Presiding coroner Larry Marzinzik noted before the inquest started that it was not a trial, and the aim was not meant to find fault with any particular individuals, but to determine the facts surrounding Mr. Wilder’s death and provide recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
The first item the jury heard was audio recording of two calls Mr. Wilder made to emergency services the night he died. In both of them Mr. Wilder alleges Mr. Stergiou is threatening him — although he adds there was no physical altercation.
Const. Hoekstra then testified by phone that after being dispatched to follow up on Mr. Wilder’s calls, he had telephoned Mr. Wilder.
“The main issue appeared to be that Mr. Wilder was upset about the addition (to Mr. Stergiou’s restaurant) and its proximity to his property,” said Const. Hoekstra. “I spoke with Mr. Wilder on the phone and he said they (Mr. Wilder and Mr. Stergiou) were separated, he didn’t feel threatened and he didn’t want to press any charges against Mr. Stergiou.”
RCMP officers get hundreds of such calls a year and usually call the complainants to determine if they really need to intervene, said Const. Hoekstra, adding that in this case he did not think it necessary to drive down to Fairmont, but told Mr. Wilder to call back if there were further issues.
Just before Mr. Sterigou’s testimony, the Wilder family’s lawyer, Cameron Ward, lodged an objection that he had not known until the proceeding began that some witnesses, Mr. Stergiou in particular, were testifying by phone.
“It’s a complete surprise to me that the witness is not attending,” said Mr. Ward. “I’m troubled; it’s not appropriate.”
Mr. Ward said Mr. Stergiou was an important witness since he and Mr. Wilder had been embroiled in a dispute over whether Mr. Stergiou’s addition was far enough away from the property line that escalated to the point Mr. Wilder wanted the police involved.
“To get a sense of the dynamics between the two men, it’s necessary to see him (Mr. Stergiou), hear him and observe his demeanor,” said Mr. Ward.
“I’d agree if we thought there was a credibility issue,” said inquest council Roddick Mackenzie, but added he didn’t think there was a credibility issue and since the purpose of the inquest is recommendations, it was appropriate to have the witness call in by phone. He also cited the cost to the public of bringing Mr. Stergiou from his home in Victoria to testify in Invermere.
Mr. Ward noted it was hard to discuss some photos of the site (of Mr. Wilder’s and Mr. Stergiou’s properties) without having Mr. Stergiou present.
“The notion that it’s too expensive to bring witnesses (from Victoria) is not respectful to Mr. Wilder’s family — they’ve been waiting two and a half years to hear the facts surrounding his death,” said Mr. Ward.
The presiding coroner took the objection under advisement, but proceeded.
Mr. Stergiou testified that Mr. Wilder was anxious and upset at not having tenants in his property that summer and that he did have a discussion with Mr. Wilder the night that he died, but did not characterize it as an argument.
“Mr. Wilder was talking to himself as he was putting put some sticks or rocks in the corner (between the properties). I thought maybe he was intoxicated or something,” said Mr. Stergiou.
Mr. Stergiou told the inquest that he asked if Mr. Wilder needed help and Mr. Wilder answered back angrily and told Mr. Stergiou that he would “close (Mr. Stergiou) out of business.”
Mr. Stergiou said he didn’t threaten Mr. Wilder at all and left immediately after Mr. Wilder’s angry words. Mr. Stergiou also said that Mr. Wilder had been upset about Mr. Stergiou’s customers parking on on Mr. Wilder’s property.
The restaurant owner also testified that four RCMP officer has dinner at this restaurant that night, but said nobody asked him questions about his disagreement with Mr. Wilder until the next day.
Other witnesses scheduled to testify at the inquest on Monday afternoon included Janet Wilder, Fawn Wilder, Carol Seable, RCMP Corporal Grant Simpson, Constable Dustin Burch, Constable Scott Myers, and Dr. Shannon Page.
Those scheduled to testify on Tuesday, October 22nd included pathologist Dr. James Stephen, toxicologist Dr. John Healthcote, RCMP staff sergeant Marko Shehovac, Port Moody police department detective Jodi Gormick and Port Moody police officer Rob Anzulovich.