ONE OF two men who lied to police following the death of another in the Skeena River in 2014 will not have a criminal record provided he completes conditions of a sentenced handed down by a provincial court judge.
Nathan Joseph Heit, 27, of Kitimat was one of three men who drove a truck belonging to Heit into the Skeena in the Copper River flats area east of Terrace on Nov. 1.
He and Jesse Fehr managed to get back to shore but Dustin Steele from Red Deer, Alberta was last seen in the back of the truck as it floated down the river.
Heit and Fehr at first told police the trio had parked the truck and left it running whereupon three men, unknown to them, then drove it into the river.
RCMP officers, skeptical of the story provided them, questioned Heit and Fehr and they eventually admitted that their version of events was untrue.
Heit and Fehr were then charged with obstructing a peace officer, attempting to obstruct justice and making false and misleading statements to police officers.
Heit, who was found remorseful for his actions by provincial court judge Terence Wright, was sentenced to a conditional discharge with probation for 18 months and 30 hours of community work service within the first 12 months of his probation.
Should Heit complete his sentence satisfactorily he won’t have a criminal record.
“I think it’s clear [Heit is of] good character and has many positive characteristics and this is an aberration in his usual behaviour,” said Wright, noting that Heit had no prior criminal record.
“I find a conditional discharge is appropriate in this particular case. It is in Mr. Heit’s interest and not contrary to the public interest.”
Search and rescue volunteers from Terrace Search and Rescue and individuals went out for days afterward looking for Steele.
Searchers did find the truck submerged in the river on Nov. 4, but bad weather and the river’s current prevented its recovery until the morning of Nov. 7.
In December 2014 searchers returned to look on the shoreline and shallow water areas and found a child seat, and boot believed to have come from the truck, said Terrace Search and Rescue members at that time.
In April 2015, searchers checked out a log jam downriver from where the vehicle went into the water but did not find Steele’s body.
In a statement read to court, Steele’s father Dwayne said the loss of his son Dustin affected every aspect of the lives of him and his family.
He said the family would never have any closure because they would never be able to lay Dustin’s body to rest, the court heard.
“The only thing he wants is for those boys to understand what they did,” said Wright, reading from the father’s comments to the pre-sentence report writer.
“And that they never gave Dustin a fighting chance.”
Fehr is due in provincial court here in November for the final disposition of his charges.