Penticton’s iconic peach turned into a grape for an April Fool’s joke.                                Steve Kidd/Western News

Penticton’s iconic peach turned into a grape for an April Fool’s joke. Steve Kidd/Western News

Part 2: Top stories of 2017

Youth centre dream becoming a reality

Years of fundraising and awareness efforts came to a head for the YES Project as they landed not only a new home for a youth centre, but access to services through The Foundry network.

The centre, which will be called Foundry Penticton, will offer access to core services, including primary care; mental health and substance use services; sexual health; youth and family peer support and navigation; housing, supported employment, income assistance and education supports. That is expected to improve health and social outcomes for youths aged 12 to 24.

Related: Penticton Youth Centre gains key resource

The Community Foundation of the South Okanagan Similkameen also launched the fundraising campaign for the new Youth Centre with longtime resident and business leader Judy Lloyd accepting the role of chair for the fundraising efforts.

The Community Foundation has negotiated the purchase of 501 Main St. and will be taking possession of the building on Jan. 15, 2018.

Related: Youth need a place to turn for community and hope

“We have made great strides in a short period of time,” said Aaron McRann, executive director of the community foundation. “The community has already stepped up in a significant way and we currently have more than $900,000 committed towards our $3-million goal.”

RCMP officer fined

It was a heart-wrenching day in court, as Cst. Ace Jimmy Stewart took the stand to apologize to the mother of deceased toddler James Christian McIntosh on Jan. 23.

An all-around tragedy, a family lost their young child to a potentially avoidable accident as Stewart turned the corner from Green Mountain Road onto the Channel Parkway.

Without an illegally-raised vehicle, Stewart might have seen James peddling his bicycle behind his father, Brian, and brother, Kaleb, but instead Sept. 15, 2015 ended with tragedy.

“I remember with such clarity how full my cup felt. Two beautiful, intelligent and kind children I’d somehow been so lucky to call my own,” James’ mother Elizabeth said in the court hearing. “We did not take our blessings for granted.”

Stewart pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention in a case that shattered hearts in the courtroom. Delivering an emotional apology in court, hardly able to hold himself up in the stand, Stewart, too, appeared to have lost a part of himself.

“Today, with 24 years of policing experience, I have seen so much that no person could ever imagine. What I’m about to do is probably the most heartbreaking thing in my entire life.”

Stewart and Elizabeth shared an emotional hug after leaving the courtroom, where Stewart would receive a $1,500 fine.

It was also a day of solidarity, as RCMP officers and paramedics filled the room — the former to support Stewart and the latter to support the McIntosh family, with Brian a paramedic at the time.

To add insult to injury, the family experienced renewed tragedy later this year when Brian, who had been absent from the sentencing hearing in January to attend cancer treatment in Kelowna, passed away.

Related: RCMP officer fined for crash that killed boy

Four unsolved homicides

This past year has seen no shortage of major crimes in Penticton and the South Okanagan compared to other years, with four homicides that we know about this year.

It started in mid-January this year, when police were called to the area of White Lake Road, where a body was found in the Willowbrook area — that of 27-year-old Dean Jefferey Gillette from Kelowna.

Police deemed Gillette’s death to be suspicious, but have since been mum about the incident.

In April, it was a shooting at an apartment complex at Creston Ave. that rocked the city — according to one neighbour, the shooting victim had been knocking on a door in the complex before yelling began and shots were fired.

The man had made it down the outside stairwell before dying, and the suspected shooter, a resident in the complex, was taken into police custody. He was released without charges the following day, with police assuring the public there was no danger and it was an isolated incident.

Fast forward to June, when Dale Atkinson, 63, was found dead in his Woodland Drive residence, the victim of an apparent homicide.

A woman taken into custody that day, who was in a relationship with Atkinson, was later released without charges, finding public safety was not an issue.

And just last week, police made note of a fourth homicide that happened in the city, but are releasing no details about that homicide, only to say that it hadn’t happened the night before.

Related: Fourth Penticton homicide this year shrouded in mystery

In an interview on an unrelated matter, Supt. Ted De Jager continued to decline to comment further, indicating the “integrity of the investigation” needed to be preserved.

Just days after the Creston Ave. shooting, Afshin Maleki Ighani allegedly shot Thomas Szajko in Oliver, leading police on a manhunt for a few days, and ultimately catching him in Princeton after he reportedly kidnapped a woman.

Ighani’s attempted murder charges against Szajko were dropped this month after Szajko died of unrelated causes.

Prisoner in her own home

Two RCMP members watch as the man (in green) who lived in the motorhome in the driveway of an Okanagan Avenue property prepares the vehicle to be towed. A community effort to clean up the property was organized to help the elderly woman who lives in the house.

An 87-year-old woman described as a “prisoner” in her own home has a bunch of strangers to thank for her newfound freedom.

In April the Western News caught up with the senior who was under the watchful eyes of two members of the RCMP’s targeted enforcement unit, as a small motorhome was towed from the driveway of the Okanagan Avenue house starting a new chapter in the senior’s life.

For the past several years the elderly woman’s son had been living in the motorhome all the while accumulating a massive amount of items of every description which completely filled the small yard and outbuilding. Compounding the problem were the many “unsavoury” characters that began visiting the property at all hours of the day and night.

After many complaints to the city, bylaw services became involved and eventually issued a cleanup order which is when the volunteers banded together on social media and then jumped into action to give her a hand.

“It’s over. The trailer is gone. I spent time with her (homeowner) yesterday (Sunday) and I spent time with her on the phone this morning when the tow truck was there and she sounded very upbeat, I could hear the relief in her voice that she can now go outside and enjoy her yard safely,” said Jana Huolt, one of the volunteer organizers. “I sincerely hope that group of people (the vagrants) knows there is no gathering place there now, there is no junk piles at the home anymore. There should be no one on that property. It needs to be a safe haven for the homeowner.”

Related: ‘Prisoner’ in her own home freed by strangers

Senior unaccounted for after house fire

The family of a 92-year-old woman that went missing in mid-October after a house fire on Lakeside Road completely destroyed one home and heavily damaged another have been on an “emotional roller coaster”

Mary Ruth Esta’s remains were never uncovered despite multiple searches of the debris in her house, which was fully engulfed in flames the night of Oct. 11.

“To discover that your family member is stuck in a house that’s burning, it’s the worst possible … it’s a terrible thing to happen to a family member. When they said she wasn’t there, it gave me hope she had escaped somehow but it doesn’t make any sense,” said Lisa Batstone, who once lived at the residence with Esta. “It would be nice just to know what happened to have some closure. It’s almost harder, the what if’s. It’s almost worse than knowing what happened, that she died in the fire. Your mind just goes on and on over all the different possibilities.

Penticton Fire Rescue closed their case, turning the matter over to the RCMP. Family friends also walked along the shoreline of Skaha Lake behind the house in both directions, again with no results.

“Due to her age and medical condition, it is unlikely that she could have got out, and we understand that it may be unlikely that she is ever located,” said Esta’s stepson Rick Gammer.

Related: UPDATE: 94-year-old woman still unaccounted for

April Fools joke — Still looking peachy

It may not have been the biggest story of the year, but it certainly got the community’s attention when the City of Penticton decided it was time to leave Penticton’s icon Peach behind and remake it as a grape to better reflect the area’s focus on the ever-growing wine industry.

In April, the Western News reported that after extensive research, city hall had decided that Penticton was no longer “peaches and beaches” but “wine and dine.”

april fool

“How better can we show visitors that we’re all about wine than by having a giant grape on our beach?” asked Mayor Andrew Jakubeit while crews gave the Peach a coat of purple paint.

Diana Stirling, who holds the lease on the concession was shocked by the overnight change, calling on other residents to come down and protest by The Peach on April 1. Residents began taking to Facebook to express their displeasure with city hall’s latest “stupid decision.” It took some time for the April 1 date of the repainting — with washable paint — to settle in.

Related: Happy April Fools!

No parole for 25 years for Grace Robotti

One of Penticton’s biggest trials never even happened in Penticton — one that was stained with the ugly truths of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Grace Robotti was found guilty of the second-degree murder of Roxanne Louie in early April and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment with no eligibility for parole for 10 years in Kelowna’s courthouse this year.

Her brother, Pier, was also facing the murder charge but pleaded guilty instead to indignity to a body, a charge Grace was also found guilty of, for the pair’s attempt to hide the body.

The court case heard both gruesome and emotional testimony during the trial, with Grace attempting to paint Louie’s death — resulting from 26 blows to the head from a crowbar — as the result of a struggle between the two and an act of self-defence.

Grace is the great-grandmother of Louie’s child, which had been a point of contention between them. After Louie was killed, Pier told the courts he saw his sister cleaning up blood near Louie’s covered-up body and went out to chain smoke. When his sister came outside to join him, he reportedly told her to call the police — she told him to help hide the body.

With the siblings sentenced in April, marking the end of a saga, Louie’s family said they were looking to the future, particularly for Louie’s son.

Related: Family speaks out on Robotti verdict