Witness testifies Vader was driving McCanns’ SUV

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A man who testified he would often use meth with Travis Vader told court he saw Vader driving a green SUV with a tow bar in early July, 2010, at a mutual friend’s house.

Myles Ingersoll, 47, a truck driver from the Niton Junction area, testified at Vader’s first-degree murder trial April 4. Vader is accused of killing St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann.

The two were last seen July 3, 2010, driving a motorhome towing a green Hyundai Tucson SUV en route to British Columbia. They are presumed dead, and their bodies have never been recovered.

Ingersoll told court while he couldn’t remember the exact day or time – it was around midday – he had gone to visit his friend “Bandana Dave” Olson in Peers, Alta., to see if he wanted to go to the Peers River with him and his two dogs. When he arrived, Olson and Vader were standing in the yard talking.

“(Vader) just said he had to get going; there was too much heat,” he said. “Apparently he had warrants out for his arrest.”

He noted the vehicle Vader was driving had a tow-bar attached to the front of it, which he said would have been used to tow it behind another vehicle.

“Being a truck driver since I was a kid, I always notice that stuff like hitches,” Ingersoll said.

He said Vader appeared to be upset, not typical of his previous interactions with him, and said he assumed it was because of the warrants.

“He just looked upset, or maybe guilty of something,” he said when Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson pressed him on the matter. “I don’t know, I can’t say for sure. That’s just what I felt.”

He said Olson seemed his usual self that day, and to his knowledge none of the three of them had been using drugs that day.

Ingersoll said when he later saw a picture of the McCanns’ motorhome in a newspaper, he noticed the stripe on the side of it was a “sea-foam green,” the same as the SUV Vader had been driving, and when he later saw a photo of the McCanns’ SUV he identified them as being the same.

When Finlayson asked him further about his drug-use, Ingersoll said he had used speed the day before he saw Vader in early July, but said it likely didn’t have a significant effect on him.

“Most people would say yes, but it’s not like it was a first-time drug for me,” he said. “I guess you could say I was seasoned, if you want to put it that way.”

As for whether Ingersoll had ever used drugs with Vader, he was unequivocal that he had.

“Yeah, we used drugs together. Speed,” he said, using a street name for methamphetamines. “Pretty much every time we were together; probably more than 10 times.”

Ingersoll also said he had spoken with Vaders about “guns and stuff,” as at one point both of them had firearms – shotguns and rifles – that they were looking to sell.

Cross-examination

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh began his cross-examination taking an immediately confrontational posture, suggesting Ingersoll’s evidence didn’t make sense, and asking him about why he had not shown up in court last week as he was initially scheduled.

Ingersoll said he had chosen not to come because he didn’t want to and chose not to.

Beresh then went on at length to suggest Ingersoll was “living on the edge,” using drugs and hoping to not get caught; Ingersoll said he had last used speed two weeks prior to his testimony. Beresh suggested he had been using it every day for the past several years, affecting his memory, but Ingersoll maintained he never used drugs every day and has maintained a full-time job for years.

Police intercepted a phone call between Ingersoll and a man who was a friend of his at the time, in which Ingersoll said he didn’t think the vehicle in Olson’s driveway that day was the McCanns’ because it had a black bumper, but Ingersoll said he had lied to his friend because he didn’t want to be involved in the investigation in any way.

“I lied to (him),” Ingersoll said, noting he wasn’t aware that conversation was being recorded and he was not under oath at the time.

During that conversation he suggested police were investigating because of something Olson had said, which Ingersoll denied. Beresh insisted, and suggested Ingersoll had painted Olson as a “stoolie,” which is a slang word for police informant, and had thereby endangered him.

“Some of them end up with concrete shoes,” Beresh said. “You know that’s a kiss of death to say to someone, ‘He’s an informant.’ ”

Beresh also suggested the vehicle Ingersoll claims Vader was driving was not the McCanns’ SUV, but was in fact a Nissan truck found at the property of Don Bulmer, where Vader was arrested in late July.

Ingersoll said he had never seen that truck before, which Beresh suggested was untrue because he had visited Bulmer’s house on several occasions.

Ingersoll’s criminal record was entered into evidence as Exhibit 32, and Beresh also questioned him at length about charges that didn’t result in convictions, including several charges of failing to appear in court, as well as charges of uttering threats against his partner and against William Nikolyuk, who previously testified in this trial.

“I threatened to (beat him up), and I’d certainly like to some day,” he said.

Beresh suggested Ingersoll was someone who wanted to make up his own rules, and did not want to respect authority. He replied that for a period, that was true, and conceded he had broken the law on several occasions.

Finally Beresh questioned Ingersoll about Olson about his mental faculties, suggesting he collects Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped and had trouble with his memory.

Ingersoll replied that he had never specifically noticed memory problems in the hundreds of times he’d seen Olson, despite his apparent disability.

“Everybody’s got a different intelligence level. Yours is probably higher than mine, and the judge’s is probably higher than yours,” he told Beresh, resulting in laughter from the gallery and a smirk from Justice Denny Thomas.

Beresh also suggested that Ingersoll and Olson were motivated by the reward offered in this case, and had conspired to tell a story that painted Vader as the villain in order to collect on that reward. Ingersoll roundly denied that suggestion.

Court is expected to resume at 2 p.m., with Crown prosecutors calling a witness to testify about the cell-phone records police obtained during this investigation.

Bobbi Jo Vader briefly appeared, and was directed to return next Wednesday, April 14, at 9:30 a.m. She is expected to testify at that time.

Fingerprint cross-examination

Friday afternoon, Beresh conducted a cross-examination of Sgt. Michael Donnelly, the RCMP fingerprint expert who testified that morning police had recovered a single usable print from a beer can in the McCanns’ SUV, and linked that print to Vader’s prints from a police database.

His line of questioning focused on three main areas.

First, with respect to the print and the can itself, he identified all the possible times and places a fingerprint could end up on a can – the manufacture process, the packaging process, en route, at the liquor store itself, passing a beer to someone at a party and finally while drinking it.

He suggested the orientation of the print itself was suspect, as it was from a middle finger pointing down on the back of the can, instead of sideways as one would expect if the print was left while drinking from the can.

Second, he questioned the process police used and suggested there was a “tremendous amount of pressure” to solve the case and solve it quickly, which may have resulted in police ignoring other potential matches.

Donnelly acknowledged there was pressure to solve the case, but no more so than with any other investigation of this nature: regardless of pressure, he said he doesn’t change his investigative process and is confident the print on the can matches Vader’s prints from the database, even though it wasn’t a “perfect” fingerprint. He reiterated that misidentifying a print can result in the end of one’s career.

“It’s my career on the line when I sign that paper,” he said. “I have to have the confidence, whether I have one amount of detail or 10 times that detail.”

Finally Beresh questioned the scientific validity of using fingerprints to identify a suspect, citing several cases in which fingerprints had been used to misidentify suspects. He referred to his own expert witness, Kathleen Birnbaum, who was sitting at the defence table with him, and also to scholarly works on fingerprints that tend to raise doubt about the validity of fingerprint evidence.

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Doug Neuman