Okanagan Lake murder charge heads to preliminary hearing

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Okanagan Lake murder charge heads to preliminary hearing
Okanagan Lake murder charge heads to preliminary hearing – Nov 18, 2019

The lawyer for Bert Westervelt was in provincial court in Kelowna on Monday to ask that a second-degree murder charge the Lake Country man faces in connection to the death of his wife be referred to a preliminary hearing before heading to trial in B.C. Supreme Court.

Crown counsel has suggested five weeks will be needed for the hearing that will determine if there is enough evidence for a trial.

Westervelt, who was not in court on Monday, has not entered a plea to the charge that he allegedly killed his wife Arlene in June 2016.

Arlene’s friends came to court on Monday to represent her family.

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“We’re here to support her because she no longer has a voice,” Cathy Vissia said. “Her family is back east and so we’re here. We have to be a voice for her.”

Vissia said she met Arlene Westervelt in 2003 when the two ran their first marathon together.

She described the 56-year-old public health nurse as a “young, healthy, beautiful, athletic, strong, vibrant woman” who was married to Westervelt for almost 30 years.

Vissia said hearing Westervelt was charged with Arlene’s death was “very shocking.”

“I didn’t really know what to think. It was a tragedy. I just couldn’t believe it was true.”

On June 26, 2016, the Lake Country woman had gone missing after the canoe she was in with her husband capsized on Okanagan Lake.

Her body was recovered about 24 metres from shore, according to RCMP.

Initially, police called the incident a preventable drowning. The couple had not been wearing life-jackets while on the lake, they said.

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In April, RCMP announced Westervelt was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death.

Vissia said the Westervelts often headed out in their canoe.

“They had several times where they went out on the lake and had picnic lunches across the lake,” she told Global News. “They had their favourite spots. They did go on canoes.”

She describes Arlene as having been a capable swimmer.

"Water wasn't one of her favourite things but she did know how to swim," Vissia said. “She snorkeled with me in Maui.”

Police have interviewed Vissia about conversations she had with Westervelt following her friend’s death.

“I was there and did meet him on a few occasions with family and support and friends,” she said.

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Vissia declined to offer details of the conversations as the case is before the courts.

“We have to wait it out and trust in our system and court,” she said. “Hopefully it will be soon and we’ll find out then we’ll get justice for Arlene.”

Vissia said Arlene’s family plans to attend a trial if one is held.

A date for Westervelt’s preliminary hearing has yet to be set.


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