Another witness has tied Travis Vader to both Lyle and Marie McCann’s SUV and another truck associated with the investigation into their disappearance, and that Vader was a regular vehicle thief and drug user.
There was added security on the sixth floor of the Court of Queen’s Bench building in Edmonton as a key witness David Olson took the stand in Vader’s murder trial Thursday morning.
Olson, who is under RCMP protection, was escorted into the courtroom by a plainclothes officer and two uniformed sheriffs; the sheriffs stood behind him in the witness box while he gave his testimony.
Dressed in a blue suit and slowly enunciating his words – court has previously heard references to possible fetal alcohol spectrum disorder – he described how he came to know Vader and the interactions the two had on July 3, the day Vader is accused of murdering St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann.
Olson testified he first met Vader six to eight months prior to that day, after his second cousin introduced them. In the first few months they were hanging out, they saw each other nearly every day at Olson’s mobile home in Peers, Alta.
“A lot of drug smoking, a lot of meth, and drinking beer,” he said, adding they would often drink cheap beer like Boxer.
He said he typically would only smoke meth when people came over with it, people like Vader, Amber Williams, and William Nikolyuk. The latter two have previously testified at the trial.
“We’ve all done drugs together on several occasions,” he said.
Olson told court he believed Vader had been living “all over the place” in the months leading up to July, without having a regular residence, and didn’t think Vader had a job for most of that time.
“I saw his last known paycheque; it was for $100,000,” he said. “Three months later, it was all gone.”
Earlier in their relationship, Olson said he knew Vader to have a truck of his own, but said that had been repossessed and after that, he relied on “stolen rides, mostly.”
“I’ve seen him in as many as 25 to 30 different trucks,” he said. “A lot of times he told me they were stolen, and he even told me how he would burn them when he was through.”
Olson testified that on July 3, Vader had stopped by his house in the morning, broke, and looking for oil for a dually pickup truck with a tidy tank in the back – he identified it in the photograph of the stolen Ford F-350 Vader is said to have been driving in early July that was later found partially burned on an oil lease.
He was broke, Olson said, and was looking for oil for his truck, or money to buy oil.
“He told me he was broke. He didn’t even have money to turn around and buy his own oil for the truck,” he said. “I had to give him my lawnmower oil.”
Olson testified Vader left after a short time, then returned in the late afternoon around 5 p.m. driving a green Hyundai SUV – the same make and model as the McCanns’ SUV – and this time had a roll of cash in his pocket.
“He sent me to the store to get a $25 phone card and to pick up some beer,” he said. “He sent me to the store with $50.”
Court has previously heard that phone card was used to put minutes on the Virgin Mobile phone Vader had been using at the time.
Olson said he also bought a case of Boxer beer and spent the change on a pack of Canadian Classic king-size cigarettes.
Olson said Vader appeared very frustrated, and repeatedly spoke of contacting Williams, his ex-girlfriend.
“That visit, he was extremely agitated and wanted to reach Amber. He kept mentioning her name several times,” he said.
They drank a few beers together on the front lawn, and he left shortly after mutual friend Myles Ingersoll stopped to invite Olson to go down to the river. Vader took the remaining beer, including the case, with him when he left.
Olson described the SUV as being “extremely clean, like new,” and said he thought Vader had the keys with him. He said that was the last time he saw that SUV.
Days later, while reading the newspaper, Olson said he saw an article about the McCanns which described the SUV, and he realized it might be the same one. He reported that information to police officers who came to his house to ensure he was complying with his release conditions after having been busted with a 74-plant marijuana grow op at his house in Peers in late June.
“I kind of figured it was the same SUV I seen Travis in. I wasn’t sure, but it sounded pretty close,” he said.
Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson indicated he was nearly done with his questions immediately before the Thursday lunch break, but asked to take the break first to confirm.
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh is expected to cross-examine Olson after the lunch break.
Wednesday afternoon was filled entirely with testimony from employees of the RCMP’s forensic analysis laboratory who testified about the processes they used to extract and analyze DNA samples collected from various scene relating to the McCann investigation.
First thing Thursday morning, court heard from David Lussier, who was a civilian member of the RCMP tech crimes unit in 2010 and 2011. He testified about the process he used to reconstruct a cellphone from a circuit board that was seized by police at the home of Don Bulmer, where Vader was arrested in late July 2010.
He testified that after reconstructing the phone and using analytical tools, he identified the phone as being a Koodo phone with the phone number 780-920-6796. That is the phone number that was registered to Lyle McCann, from which two text messages and several phone calls were sent to Amber Williams just five hours after the McCanns were last seen.