More than seven months after a gas-and-dash took the life of an Edmonton man, his family, who is still reeling from his death, has taken on the full operations of a Thorsby gas station – an act that has caught the eye of the local community, spurring a snowball effect of donations to help them.
On Oct. 6, 2017, Ki Yun Jo was killed trying to stop a cube van from leaving the Thorsby Fas Gas, which he owned, without paying. Police found the cube van days later but a suspect has not been apprehended.
Son Sung Hyun Jo said his family was “emotionally crumbled” after the tragedy. Ki Yun Jo had owned and run the gas station for roughly 12 years while the rest of the family helped out. Now, they are trying to run it on their own.
Sung Hyun Jo said he initially kept a separate accounting job while his mom and sister ran the gas station, but eventually he gave up his job to help them out.
“I had an idea [of how to run the store] because I watched my dad do many things but … having actual hands-on full operational stuff on the store – it was a learning process for me,” he said.
The family was struggling with various issues related to the store, he said, such as mechanical equipment breaking down. In those moments, Sung Hyun Jo said the family was praying for “someone to show up and give us hope and a lot of help.”
Rhonda Fiveland had met Ki Yun Jo five years earlier. Fiveland, who owns a contracting company, had been asked to provide a paint estimate to Ki Yun Jo; the job never came to fruition.
“My heart was broken. When tragedies like this happen, the way Jo was killed, we feel helpless. I felt helpless.”
Fiveland said it was then that she decided to paint the gas station for free.
“You can’t take away someone’s pain but what I can do is paint to help them.”
Fiveland said she wanted the new paint job to give the family a fresh start. She turned to David Allen, owner of Benjamin Moore Paints in Leduc, and asked him to donate paint for the job. He quickly said yes.
“Being a small business owner, it tore my heart when I heard about the tragic accident,” he said.
Allen said his store is donating the paint for the exterior of the gas station and the interior of the car wash; he estimates the dollar value of the products is between $2,500 and $3,000.
“It’ll give the gas station a new look so they’ll be able to track potential customers. They’ve got some spots where the paint’s peeling. It’ll just give it a nice update.”
Soon, other businesses were offering their time and services to help the Jo family. The fire department and RCMP are also providing assistance.
Dan Dick, of Dick Contracting, did not know Ki Yun Jo but heard through Fiveland about the effort to help the gas station owner’s family.
“I’m a small town guy as well so these small towns aren’t that far away from each other,” he said. “To give a little bit back is nice.”
Dick said his company will be re-shingling the roof in the next couple weeks; the work is valued at $8,000, he said.
“We will do about two-thirds of the roof and two-thirds of the roof is in need of a change,” he said.
“It’s nice to contribute, even though we can’t truly contribute to help them make up for that loss.”
Help from community “a blessing”
For Sung Hyun Jo, the support from the community has been overwhelming.
“It’s truly amazing. I’m really speechless how things are progressing so fast. We were praying for it and hoping for it and it actually happened,” he said.
Sung Hyun Jo said he, his sister and mother would have tried to get the work done themselves but he admits it would have been costly.
“This help is a blessing,” he said, adding the family calls Fiveland “an angel.”
Cory Gilbert, general manager of mechanical contractor GWI, said his company was fixing a water line issue at the gas station when it learned of the effort Rhonda was orchestrating.
“Rhonda… talked to us to see what we could do to try and delve into some of their issues with their mechanical issues a little more,” he said.
“It’s an older building. It mostly has a lot of wear and tear. The water heater specifically, which served the car wash, it’s a fairly large unit and it’s ruptured, it’s leaking. There are some code issues with the furnace that heats the store.”
Gilbert is now working with distributers to find cost-effective options for the family, with the expectation the upgrades will help them run the store for the foreseeable future.
Gas station will honour Ki Yun Jo
Sung Hyun Jo said he believes his father would have been “really happy” to see the community lending a helping hand.
“He always wanted to paint the store and have all the new equipment and have a refreshed look of the store. I think it will bring a lot of meanings to the store and our family,” he said.
Sung Hyun Jo said he hopes the upgrades will help make the store more successful; the plan is for the family to keep the gas station open in honour of Ki Yun Jo.
“I think my dad probably didn’t want us to keep the store because he’s gone through so much in his life to try to run the store on his own. He probably didn’t want to pass this onto his family,” he aid.
“But from our point of view… this is what we had for our lives.
“The reality of the situation – the facts told me it’s better to sell off the store. But, because I know how hard he worked at the store and I know how hard he worked for the family, I just couldn’t leave the store.”
While it is sometimes difficult to be at the place where his father lost his life, Sung Hyun Jo said working there also helps him feel closer to his father.
“Every time I’m at the store, I feel like my dad’s going to come into the store and say, ‘I’m back.’”
Cpl. Laurel Scott with the Alberta RCMP said the investigation into the gas-and-dash is still ongoing.
Sung Hyun Jo, who said the family is in contact with police every couple weeks, said it is frustrating that the suspect is still out there.
“He or she could still be out there visiting other stores or stealing other people’s stuff, causing problems,” he said.
“It’s never too late – you could still turn yourself in.”
The renovations at the Thorsby Fas Gas will be showcased during an open house on June 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.