St. Albert resident Bret McCann spoke in a strong, steady voice Tuesday morning as he testified at the trial of Travis Vader, the man accused of murdering his parents.
Bret last saw his parents Lyle and Marie on July 2, 2010. They played some nine-ball on his dad’s pool table, ate some fried chicken, and loaded a gift for Bret’s grandson into the motorhome in the driveway, which was packed for a road trip to the West Coast.
That gift never arrived. The McCanns were last seen July 3 on security footage from the St. Albert Superstore, and their motorhome was found burning near Minnow Lake two days later.
“It was his pride and joy,” Bret said of the motorhome. “It looked like new, inside and out.”
He said his parents had purchased it around 2004 and, like every other vehicle Lyle owned, it was kept in a meticulous and well-maintained condition.
Like his sister, Trudy Holder, who testified last week, Bret has fond memories of many family camping trips taken in his youth. In those days, it was in a car towing a trailer.
He also recalled those trips usually involved long drives with few stops, as his father stuck to an itinerary.
“It was pretty regimental. He would want to put in a full day driving,” Bret said.
As an adult, he no longer went on the road trips with his parents, but did regularly meet them where they were camping and spend a week in the motorhome with them.
Bret choked up and paused briefly after Crown prosecutor Jim Stewart asked about his parents’ health. While they were generally in good health, his mother suffered from arthritis and also from memory loss.
“We noticed a few years before they died that my mom’s memory was starting to slip a bit,” he said.
He said his father would regularly play Rummoli, a card game incorporating board game elements, to try to counteract that effect.
While he and his wife would typically see or speak with his parents once every week or two, he said it was rare to speak with them while they were on their lengthy road trips.
They did keep a cellphone with them, often in the cupholder on the dashboard between the driver and passenger seats. It was kept there in case of emergency.
He also confirmed his parents had four long guns, plus a small Derringer pistol and a pellet handgun. He said his dad hunted, and his mother got the Derringer and kept it by her bed for security after an incident in which a man had been spotted lurking outside her window. That man was never caught.
He added he did not believe they would take guns on their road trips, and after he and his siblings sold the house a year after his parents’ disappearance, he was satisfied all the guns were accounted for.
He noted police visited the house to collect DNA evidence, to be able to match any DNA found on crime scenes to his parents.
Two other witnesses testified on Monday.
First, Crown prosecutor Eman Joumaa called Mona Roydhouse, who worked at the Beers at Peers liquor store in Peers, Alta., in July 2010.
She discussed two invoices, each for a case of Boxer beer, dated July 3 and July 6. They were labelled as Exhibits 6 and 7 respectively.
The company she worked for, Cougar Mountain Holdings, Ltd., operated the liquor stores in Peers and nearby Niton Junction, but she indicated only the Peers store stocked Boxer.
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh asked who was involved in those sales, and Roydhouse said she couldn’t remember because the invoices only referred to a clerk number, not a name.
She also confirmed Boxer beer could have been available at other nearby liquor stores in Edson and elsewhere.
Beresh also asked her about her nephew Dave Olson, who also lived in Peers, and he suggested Olson had a drug problem, specifically with methamphetamines.
“All I know is he smoked wacky tobacky, that’s it,” Roydhouse replied. “I don’t know about those other things.”
Olson is expected to testify again later in the trial.
Crown prosecutor Jim Stewart then called Janette Samson-Roder to the stand. She owns the property near Highway 16 and Range Road 144 where the McCanns’ SUV was discovered on July 16.
She said she and her daughter were travelling from Edmonton and decided to stop to check on the property. She had recently leased part of it to an oil company and she wanted to ensure the company had moved the entrance gate to the property as agreed.
She then noticed that a shop on the property appeared to have been broken into, and saw a mess inside.
“I noticed there were some things disturbed and some things that didn’t belong to me,” Samson-Roder said.
Several other buildings also appeared to have been damaged, and she soon discovered a vehicle on site that didn’t belong to her, and she phoned police.
“Fairly quickly there was an RCMP officer out to the property,” she said, adding she turned the property over to police for several days while they conducted an investigation.
Samson-Roder said she hadn’t been onto the property to examine it closely since the fall of 2009, and said there were some buildings she hadn’t been in since she moved in 2002.
Under Beresh’s cross-examination, he entered two more books of photos of the property from the police investigation, totalling several hundred images, as Exhibits 8 and 9.
For nearly every one, Beresh asked if the images reflected the condition in which Samson-Roder had last left the property, and she confirmed they didn’t.
Beresh also asked Samson-Roder about how easy it would be to access the property, to which she consistently replied that no one but her had been authorized to be there.
“I don’t know because no one should have had access to my property,” she repeated several times. “The only one who should have been out there was me.”
When pressed, she conceded the fencing itself may not have prevented access to the property, and confirmed access to her property from the oil lease would have been straightforward if “someone was so inclined.”
On Monday morning, court heard an application from Beresh to have correctional centre records provided to the defence, which he said may show issues of drug use or trafficking while in custody, which presumably could affect the credibility of witnesses.
Amber Williams, the woman Crown prosecutors have said is Vader’s ex-girlfriend who received text messages from Vader on the McCanns’ cell phone, was also brought in to the courtroom to get her position on that application.
Wearing a blue sweatshirt typical of prisoners at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre, along with a white rosary around her neck, she said she had not yet been able to speak with her lawyer about the request.
“I would like to speak with him,” she said.
That application was made while the court waited for Vader who was late to kick off week of the trial due to car trouble.
Later in the day, Edson firefighter Lt. Robert Burgess, who was the commander on the fire scene involving the McCanns’ motorhome, testified he believes the fire started as a result of a fuel leak.
“It appeared the motorhome was driven up to the berm very quickly, in an attempt to get over it,” he said.
Burgess explained that impact may have forced the engine back into the chassis, severing the fuel line, and he believed a subsequent spark started the fire.
Under Beresh’s cross-examination, he said it was possible the driver would have suffered lower-leg injuries as a result of that collision.
“I won’t discount that. It’s possible,” he said. “I would suspect there would be some visible bruises.”
He also testified that a bill of sale and registration document for the motorhome, which survived the fire, were found on the scene, and a licence plate that was registered to a one-ton truck and not the motorhome.
Court also heard the continued testimony of RCMP Sgt. Michael Donnelly, who had been testifying over the course of the last week about the continuity of evidence: where it was collected and when, who handled it, and what records were kept.
Donnelly provided a handwritten document to court, marked as Exhibit 5, identifying the specific locations of several of the scenes where evidence was collected, including GPS co-ordinates.
There was a moment of confusion as Crown prosecutor Jim Stewart asked the court clerk to retrieve a specific piece of evidence from among the dozens of bags left in the jurors’ box, and after a five-minute search she came up empty handed.
Prosecutors soon realized the piece of evidence, in this case the beer can they say had Vader’s DNA on it, was still in possession of another RCMP investigator outside the courtroom, who is himself expected to testify later in the trial.
Visit www.stalbertgazette.com for regular updates as the trial progresses.