B.C.’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team is probing the deaths of two young women who were found less than a year apart along the same stretch of highway between Hope and Boston Bar.
“It’s senseless,” said Stephen Gilmer, the commercial trucker who came across the first woman’s body.
“This young lady and the young lady that they found the other day — this didn’t need to happen.”
Gilmer said he was haunted again by what he witnessed almost one year ago, when he learned about the second grim discovery.
“I felt bad. It’s still something, it’s still with me,” Gilmer told Global News.
Foul play is suspected in the death of 19-year-old Melissa Elizabeth Steele, who was found on May 26 after a passing motorist reported seeing a body around 1:50 p.m. near Highway 1 between Hope and Yale.
Shortly after 4 a.m. on June 3, 2020, Gilmer was headed south on the same stretch through the Fraser Canyon when he heard radio chatter about someone passed out on the side of the highway.
Somebody reported the incident to police, and Gilmer said he decided to stop as he drove past to see if the person was alright.
Five or six kilometres north of Yale and east of the Yale Tunnel, the professional transport truck driver saw a woman’s body on the side of the highway northbound near the train tracks.
“She was lying on the shoulder,” recalled Gilmer, who said he ran across the road to check on her.
“There was nothing I could have done.”
Gilmer said he got back in his truck and radioed in to make sure police were on their way.
He said he waited for first responders to arrive and gave a statement to RCMP before continuing on his route.
That woman was later identified as 29-year-old Alicia Hatarina Berg. Police said she had green hair and was wearing a grey hoodie, grey-black sweat pants and sandals before her death, which was deemed suspicious.
“Seeing her injuries, when I walked up upon her and saw what I saw — it’s something nobody should have to see,” Gilmer recalled.
Homicide investigators have said Berg spent time in the Fraser Valley while Steele was known to frequent downtown Vancouver.
“They’re saying that both young ladies led a transient lifestyle, which really shouldn’t matter,” said Gilmer, who fears someone may be targeting women along that stretch of road.
“It still brought up visions of what Willy Pickton was doing on the Downtown Eastside.”
Notorious serial killer Robert “Willy” Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder for the slaying of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on Pickton’s pig farm in Port Coquitlam.
Gilmer said he encourages anyone who remembers seeing anything unusual in the hours before either Berg or Steele were found to report it to police.
“Hoping that there isn’t a serial killer or anything like that,” Gilmer said.
Investigators are working on a timeline of Steele’s activities prior to her death and have appealed for dashcam video from anyone who was travelling between Boston Bar and Hope on May 25 and 26.
Dashcam video was also requested in the investigation into Berg’s death, specifically from motorists who drove between Hope and Boston Bar between midnight and 5 a.m. on June 3, 2020.
“There were so many trucks heading up that highway that passed her on the shoulder that didn’t stop,” said Gilmer, as he still wrestles with what happened.
“It didn’t look right. Somebody should have stopped sooner, maybe something could have been done for her — I don’t know.”