The question ‘what if?’ has haunted Garrett Kerr for more than two years now.
His brother, Cameron Kerr, 30, was killed in a hit and run in the early hours of Nov. 18, 2018 while walking home after drinking. Cameron was a sheet metal worker by trade, but he was also a former player for the Terrace River Kings hockey team and an avid outdoorsman who loved paddling, hunting and fishing. Everyone knew he was kind and compassionate and he had a tremendous sense of humour, Garrett says.
The driver of the vehicle has not been caught, despite a rigorous RCMP investigation that has turned up significant evidence and identified a group of suspects from the Lower Mainland who may have colluded to cover up the incident.
Garrett and Cameron were together that night and when speaking to Garrett it’s clear he has asked himself over and over what he could have done differently, as so many people do when they grieve such a loss — particularly when the investigation is incomplete, leaving the family with few answers.
The night Cameron was killed, the brothers had attended a wake for a friend who died young of an overdose. Friends and family had gathered for a bittersweet night of sharing memories, Garrett says, at a home in New Remo.
When Cameron was ready to leave, he decided to walk home to Terrace along Hwy 16. It’s a long walk, but not unfamiliar to the brothers, who grew up in New Remo. Before Cameron left, he had a conversation with Garrett in the driveway. Garrett tried to convince him to wait for a cab or to sleep at their parents’ home in New Remo.
But Cameron wanted to walk, so Garrett let him go and returned to the party.
An oncoming vehicle struck Cameron shortly after he left as he walked against traffic on the shoulder of the highway, according to the RCMP. The driver and companions took hours to cover up the incident before continuing northwest along the highway, the Kerr family says.
A while after Cameron left, Garrett and a group of friends piled into a cab and headed toward Terrace. There was an energetic mood in the cab, Garrett says, and nobody was paying attention to the ditch on the opposite side of the road.
“I still don’t know to this day whether my brother was alive when I rode by in the cab,” Garrett says, his voice breaking, in a recent interview with The Terrace Standard. “The longer these guys hold out and don’t co-operate, the longer I have to live with that.”
Cameron’s body was found in the ditch around noon by a member of the public.
Garrett had been trying to reach Cameron that morning and had gone by Cameron’s place to find he wasn’t home. Then Garrett drove back out toward New Remo with a sinking feeling in his gut.
“I had made most of the drive out there wondering,” he says. “And sure enough I came around the next corner and there was a police stoppage and police tape.”
Police quickly identified a suspect vehicle, a 2011-2016 Ford F350 pickup truck. Tips from the public lead police to discover an abandoned boat trailer associated with the case.
Then on Nov. 21, just days after Cameron was killed, police announced they had identified a truck on Haida Gwaii with damage consistent with the collision and said they were confident they had identified a suspect driver who was from the Lower Mainland. They seized the suspect F350 truck, another truck and two boat trailers (in addition to the abandoned boat trailer discovered earlier). Police questioned seven people who may have been involved in the incident.
Then, nothing. The RCMP didn’t quite have enough evidence to recommend charges. Garrett and his family held a press conference on Dec. 19, one month after Cameron was killed, appealing for people to come forward with information.
They were joined by Sgt. Shawn McLaughlin, the primary RCMP member on the case.
“We will not relent until we deliver the driver responsible [and he] is brought to justice,” Sgt. McLaughlin said at the press conference. “The last thing I want to see is that those responsible, or those that are hiding evidence … enjoying their Christmas while forgetting the faces of those you see here today.”
RCMP conducted a search for evidence along Hwy 16 in April 2019, once weather conditions permitted, aided by members of Terrace and Prince Rupert Search and Rescue organizations. The search yielded several pertinent items, police said, though they did not disclose the nature of the items.
Since then, the Kerr family has remained focused on asking the suspects, as well as the suspects’ families and friends, to come forward with information. The Kerr family held another public appeal press conference (their third) in November 2019, about a year after Cameron was killed.
And they paid for a letter to be published in Lower Mainland newspapers in April 2020, summarizing their understanding of the incident and pleading for associates of the suspects to come forward.
“To the parents, wives, girlfriends and friends of a group of men from the Lower Mainland: In November 2018, these men set off for a fishing and hunting trip to Haida Gwaii,” the letter begins.
“After passing through Terrace, they were involved in a tragic collision … after the collision, they spent hours hiding their damaged boat trailer in the woods … they transferred the boat to the new trailer and proceeded to Haida Gwaii as if nothing had happened. The persons responsible for his death knowingly left Cameron to die alone, not caring enough to call for help.”
“Their trucks, boats and trailers were all impounded by the police, so when they returned to the Lower Mainland, it was without those possessions … If you recognize these men by this story, the family of Cameron Kerr pleads with you to urge [the suspects] to do the right thing and go to the authorities so that this nightmare can end for Cameron’s family, as well as these individuals.”
Garrett says the family does not blame the RCMP for the fact that the investigation has not been concluded and they are grateful for the work the RCMP have done.
But they still want justice.
“There is a part of the grieving process that is not available to us while this is hanging over our heads,” he says.
Sgt. McLaughlin, speaking to The Terrace Standard on Dec. 2, 2020, says he can’t share many details of the current status of the investigation, but he says police are not sitting idly waiting for someone to come forward.
“I wouldn’t say we’re at a dead end in that regard,” he says. “There’s possible other means that I can’t get into that we might resort to.”
He says the RCMP are keeping the Kerr family in the loop as much as possible.
“That’s been a strong goal of ours is to make sure that we’re engaged with the family because we do realize it’s been two years and they want that assurance and they deserve that assurance to know that this hasn’t fallen off our plate,” he says. “We are still continuing to investigate and use various means to do so.”
Sgt. McLaughlin added that the investigation has shown police that Cameron was very well respected in his community.
“It’s a very important file to the community and it’s a very important file to our membership here,” he says. “It’s really close to our hearts and we’re working on it the best we can every day.”
The River Kings held tributes to Cameron at home games in 2018 and 2019 and the community showed up in force to both games. Each year, the Terrace Pipes and Drums Society performed at the games in commemoration of Cameron’s Scottish heritage. The team likely would have held a tribute again this year but the league cancelled its season due to the pandemic.
Steve Cullis, captain of the River Kings, is a friend of Garrett and Cameron’s. He was with the brothers at the wake the night Cameron was killed.
“It was pretty tough news,” he says. “I want some closure for the family more than anything. How long do they have to keep guessing as to what exactly happened?”
Garrett says the grief of losing his brother comes in waves.
“The first couple of months it’s just like nothing you could have ever imagined. Then you sort of get to where you just have to be able to function in your life,” he says. “There are times when I’m just angry … I don’t know. You just aren’t ever going to be the same.”
“At the same time, I don’t think Cameron would have wanted us all to be in that sort of head space forever either.”
In November of this year, near the anniversary of Cameron’s death, a small group of family and friends went to the spot where his body was found to visit a memorial. It’s made of antlers, to repesent his love of hunting, his fishing rod, and kayaking oars to represent his love of paddling.
Cameron would have wanted those who love him to come together to support each other in grief, Garrett says, so they have strived to do that, even though it’s been challenging during the pandemic. And Cameron would have wanted them to laugh together.
“He was one of the funniest people you’d ever know,” Garrett says.
Garrett has so many wonderful memories of his brother from over the years, and often it’s the more recent happy memories that come to his mind. He recalls time they spent running together, and laughs as he admits Cameron was the better runner.
“We’d spend a bit of time training for the King of the Mountain [foot race] or just running for the heck of it,” he says. “When I want to really remember him, I try to go run around Terrace Mountain and feel like I’m getting my ass kicked, because I certainly felt that way when I was running with him.”
Garrett is thankful to the Terrace area community for its support.
“Everybody up here thinks about Cameron all the time and they’ve been so helpful in the investigation,” he says. “But really the people that can make a difference at this point are living their lives down south.”
– With files from Natalia Balcerzak
Police are asking anyone with information and who has not already spoken with police to call Sgt. Shawn McLaughlin with West Pacific Region Traffic Services at 250-638-7438 or, if you wish to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).