By LAURA TESTER
For the second time in less than 15 months, a Central Albertan is accused of taking the law into his own hands revolving around a suspected quad thief.
Rocky Mountain House RCMP arrested a young man on Monday after he was accused of shooting another man who was allegedly trying to steal a quad in his yard — or trying to swipe gas from it.
A similar incident occurred on March 26, 2009, when a man was shot and beaten near Tees, 40 km northeast of Red Deer, while trying to flee on an ATV stolen from farmer’s yard.
Police were called out at 2:20 a.m. Monday on the Sunchild First Nation reserve, 50 km north of Rocky, where they found a man had been shot in the leg and further sustained a broken leg after falling off a quad. The vehicle he was riding had been reported stolen.
Cpl. Wayne Howse said the commotion started when the motion light on one of the two houses in the yard turned on.
The occupants of the two homes, a grandfather and his grandson, walked out to confront the several people outside.
Howse said trespassers had arrived in the yard early in the morning on two quads already.
“The owners felt they would be victimized by these persons on these other quads, either by stealing gas or the owners’ lawfully owned quads,” said Howse.
The suspects tried to flee on their quads and as they did, one of the men from the residence pulled out a gun, police said.
Howse said a .22-calibre semiautomatic gun was used to shoot in the direction of the suspects.
One round struck one of the quad drivers in the leg, causing him to fall and further sustain a broken leg.
“Anyone who is shot is lucky to be alive,” Howse said. “He was lucky to have been shot in the leg as opposed to the upper body.”
The homeowners called 911 immediately.
The shot man, a resident of the O’Chiese First Nation reserve, was transported by ambulance and is now recovering in Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre with non-life threatening injuries.
Police charged Gerry Edward Franklin Bigchild, 19, of the Sunchild reserve with possession of a weapon for the purpose of committing an offence, careless use of a firearm, use of a firearm while committing an indictable offence, and aggravated assault. On Wednesday, he appeared in Rocky provincial court and got bail.
The quad that the alleged victim had been riding on had been reported stolen on Sunday from the Brazeau Dam area. A second quad found abandoned nearby had also been reported stolen from Rocky Mountain House on May 5. Police are expecting to lay criminal charges in connection with these matters.
A stolen dirt bike was also found in the same vicinity on Tuesday.
Rocky Mountain House RCMP say they are dealing with an epidemic of all-terrain vehicles being stolen within the town of Rocky, Clearwater County and the Brazeau Dam area over the past several years. In 2008, 140 of these thefts were reported in this region. With some arrests made, that number dropped to around 30 in 2009. Since February of this year, 25 thefts or attempted thefts have occurred, including 10 in May alone.
Police investigations have shown that numerous off-highway vehicles, damaged or completely written off, have been located on the O’Chiese First Nation reserve located less than 20 km from the Sunchild reserve.
Howse said police are concerned with vigilantism. They are urging people to secure their property, call RCMP if they encounter suspects and report licence plate numbers of any suspicious vehicles.
Through his investigations over the past two years, Howse said he’s heard some quad owners have caught suspects and done their own vigilante form of justice without police involvement.
“People are getting really frustrated — you are talking about insurance rates going up, you are talking about being victimized,” said Howse. “Some of these quad owners have been victimized two or three times over the years. For some, it’s their livelihood, using these vehicles around their farms.”
Howse said the police have met with band leaders of the O’Chiese First Nation about the problem. O’Chiese band leaders were unavailable for comment on Wednesday.
The law-abiding citizens on the reserve are frustrated and so are police, he added.
“We’ve spent countless hours investigating these stolen quads,” Howse said. “Several people we have charged have ended up on probation orders. It works for some people who wish to change their ways. For others, it’s not effective and they keep stealing quads.”
Harold Groening, 31, who was shot and beaten in the Tees area incident, was sentenced in late April to 30 days in jail for theft of the quad. Co-accused Nick Dewald, 22, of Alix was fined $400 after pleading guilty to theft while Kyle Rosenthal, 23, of Alix, is awaiting trail on a similar charge.
Brian Knight, 38, of the Tees area, is set to go to trial June 17 on charges of shooting Groening and other weapons-related offences.