Witness links Vader to burning vehicle

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Travis Vader’s friend Don Bulmer has testified that in mid-July 2010, he saw Vader unload electronics from a truck in a remote location then light the truck on fire.

Bulmer, a short man with silver hair and a silver moustache, took the stand dressed in jeans, worn-out white sneakers and a black T-shirt with a picture of country artist Terri Clark on it. He spoke in a quiet voice, often being asked to speak up.

He testified that on a Sunday in mid-July, he got home from work and got a message from one of his roommates that Vader was stranded in Lodgepole, Alta., and needed a ride.

Bulmer drove out to meet him in Lodgepole, and the two drove about 20 miles to a remote location near a gas plant near Elk River Road. Vader loaded several items from that truck into Bulmer’s truck, including a big-screen TV, some DVD players, some tools, some bedding and a few bags.

Vader and Bulmer then hooked that truck up to Bulmer’s with a chain, and pulled it out onto the road. Bulmer said Vader asked him to pick him up at the bottom of a hill a few minutes later. When he did so, he saw the truck was “engulfed in flames.”

“He lit it on fire,” Bulmer said, but noted he didn’t see that happen and doesn’t know how he did it. “I didn’t ask.”

A civilian witness has previously testified he was driving to Drayton Valley from that gas plant, and Vader stopped him asking to use his phone. That witness testified he did not see any vehicle nearby.

Some of the property had been removed from Bulmer’s house by the time he got home from work the next day, as Bulmer had made clear to the people living with him he didn’t want stolen property there.

Vader is facing two first-degree murder charges for killing St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann on July 3, 2010. They were last seen filling up their motorhome at a St. Albert gas station July 3. Their motorhome was found burning two days later on July 5.

Bulmer testified he had first met Vader when he was still in high school, some 20 years prior, when Bulmer was a contracted bus driver.

“He lived just down the road. If he missed his bus, he’d get on mine,” he said with a laugh.

When Vader returned to the Edson area from British Columbia, the two became reacquainted and spent some time using crystal methamphetamine together.

Vader moved into his McKay, Alta., home in May 2010 with his then-girlfriend Amber Williams. That lasted two months, then when Vader and Williams broke up he asked them to leave.

“It was too busy. There was too much going on,” he said. “There was more action in that time period than in the 20 years before it.”

Bulmer testified he lent Vader a green forestry tent – which he identified as looking like the one police found at a makeshift camp site where Vader is alleged to have been staying – and said Vader would come back to shower at his house once or twice per week.

“At the time he really didn’t have anywhere else to go, I guess,” Bulmer said.

He testified he didn’t think Vader was working at the time, but wasn’t broke either, pitching in for bills every now and again. When asked how Vader got money, Bulmer said he thought Vader might have been stealing.

“I never saw it personally, but I think he was out trying to grab whatever he could to make some money,” he said. “I know he was out taking copper (wire) whenever he could find it. I didn’t ask; I didn’t want to know.”

During one of Vader’s visits after he had moved out, on July 5 or 6, Bulmer said Vader arrived to take a shower and had been driving a vehicle that he parked about 30 metres away from the house in some trees.

“I saw a vehicle,” he said. “I didn’t really want to look because I didn’t want to know,” he said.

While there was some suggestion the vehicle may have been stolen, Bulmer testified he didn’t get a good look at the vehicle and didn’t ask about it.

Bulmer also testified at length about cell-phone records, with Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson asking him about several cell phone text messages sent from his home to Amber Williams – which Bulmer testified he didn’t send.

Many of the text messages appeared to be from somebody seeking to reconcile a romantic relationship with Williams, and Bulmer said they were likely sent from Vader because nobody else who had access to his phone was romantically involved with her.

Court has previously heard that similar messages were sent to Williams from the McCanns’ cell phone on the day they were last seen, and William has testified she believes those messages came from Vader.

Finlayson also asked Bulmer about firearms, and Bulmer testified he had known of two firearms – a .22 calibre rifle and another rifle, that had been at Bulmer’s house but he had asked Vader to remove them.

“That’s not supposed to be here, legit or not,” he said he told Vader. “I don’t want them on the property.”

Last Friday afternoon, like Friday morning, comprised arguments on several applications with respect to the admissibility of certain pieces of evidence. Decisions on those applications are expected Wednesday morning.

On Monday afternoon, defence lawyer Brian Beresh was expected to cross-examine Bulmer, and there is also a hearing about whether a publication ban and sealing order can be lifted for a decision Justice Denny Thomas made on a defence application for information about the witness protection program.

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Doug Neuman