Police were kept busy in Surrey in 2011.

2011, a year in review: Riots, murders and elections

The year wasn’t a snoozer when it came to news stories and epic events.

Municipal matters


• In January, Ava and Samantha Keddie, two twin 20-month-old girls, are burned badly in a home fire in a Cedar Hills apartment. Ava later dies from her injuries. Two brothers, Sam and Mike Gallant, are credited for getting the two girls out of the burning suite.


• In March, the City of Surrey sues a former planner, alleging he misappropriated funds and used them to buy a $624,000 home in North Delta. Police later charge Akonyu Akolo for fraud in relation to the missing funds.


• Also In March, Surrey vows a crackdown after it’s discovered it cost more than $800,000 in the previous year to clean up trash dumped in Surrey neighbourhoods. The amount is equivalent to the annual taxes on eight city blocks. Surrey embarks on an education program and use of closed circuit TV cameras in dumping hot spots.


• Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Delta Chamber of Commerce in March, Mayor Lois Jackson reports $34 million in major infrastructure projects is completed, or nearly completed, with $23 million in federal and provincial stimulus funding and municipal resources. Among the 12 projects: Delta Archives and Reading Room; Sungod Recreation Centre expansion; new Delta gymnastics facility; dike upgrades; East Delta pump station; 80 Street overpass; 82 Avenue revitalization; and three flood protection projects.


• In April, Surrey completes a long-awaited eco-study that will act as a blueprint for the protection of green spaces and habitats for years to come. Some environmental groups have concerns with the mapping and that it put ecosystems on the same footing as development.


• In May, the NDP’s “Orange Crush” sweeps through Surrey and Delta as the party steals a seat from both the Liberals and the Conservatives. On May 2, NDP’s Jinny Sims knocks out Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal and the left-leaning party also installs Jasbir Sandhu, who displaces Conservative Dona Cadman.


• In July, Mayor Dianne Watts breaks her back in a horseback riding accident. Watts is vacationing with her family in Kamloops when the horse she is riding begins to gallop. Watts is tossed up, and lands hard in the saddle, causing a compression fracture to two of her vertebrae.


• In September, Surrey learns that a company flipped a property after winning zoning for a casino. Boardwalk Gaming sold the 7093 King George Boulevard property to Gateway Casino and Entertainment after winning rezoning at a contentious public hearing. The promise to invest $25 million in the property dies with the sale.


• Firing back at public criticism over the sorry state of North Delta, particularly the Scott Road corridor, the municipality releases figures in September detailing its investment in the community and the increased value of housing. Council announces it has spent more than $110 million in capital projects since 2000. At the same time, Delta unveils its “Invest North Delta program to improve the Scott Road corridor.


• In October, former U.S. presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton arrive in Surrey to address the Surrey Regional Economic Summit. The arrival of Bush is met with calls for his arrest for alleged war crimes.


• In November, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and her Surrey First team sweep city council and take all but two slots on school board. It is believed to be the first time in history Surrey has had an unopposed council.


•In Delta, Mayor Lois Jackson easily wins her fifth term in office.


Courts and crime


• In January, former TV reporter Ron Bencze is charged with five child sex charges. In April, police increase the number of charges to nine and the next month, he pleads not guilty to the charges. A preliminary enquiry is scheduled in January 2012.


• In February, Police make an arrest in the Laura Szendrei murder. Police announce they arrested an 18-year-old and charged him with the murder of 15-year-old Laura at George Mackie Park in Delta on Sept. 23, 2010.


• Kyle Berkson is found guilty in February of sneaking into a nine-year-old girl’s bedroom and assaulting her in April 2010. Prosecutors are in the process of classifying him as a dangerous offender in light of his other past offences.


• Also in February, Mukhtiar Panghali is found guilty in for the murder of his pregnant wife. In the fall, he appeals his second-degree murder conviction. Manjit Panghali, a 31-year-old Surrey elementary school teacher, was killed in 2006. Mukhtiar Panghali was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 15 years. A date for the appeal is pending.


• In April, Devon Allaire-Bell,19, is stabbed and killed at while playing soccer with a buddy at Frank Hurt Secondary School. The two are approached by five Indo-Canadian males and get into a verbal dispute. One of the five pulls a knife, stabbing both Devon and his friend.


• Gary Johnston is found guilty of the 1998 murder of trucker Vic Fraser in the Bridgeview neighbourhood. In April the killer is sentenced to life with no parole for 17 years.


• Softball athlete Kassandra Kaulius, 22, is killed at 64 Avenue and 152 Street. Kaulius is driving home after a softball practice at 10 p.m. on May 3, when her car is t-boned by a woman who is believed to have been drinking. The Kaulius family makes public calls for stiffer drunk driving laws.


• In June, Surrey senior Sebastiano Damin is convicted of second-degree murder of his wife, Maria Catroppa. Damin stabbed his 69-year-old wife more than 100 times in 2009. He received a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 years.


• In July, Ravinder Kaur Bhangu is working at the Sach Di Awaaz newspaper when a man enters with at least one knife and stabs her to death. Her husband, Manmeet Singh, is later arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Singh is due back in court in March 2012.


• Also In July, a teen is convicted of manslaughter in the stabbing death of Surrey dad Sam McGowan. He apologizes in court in December, saying he is “disgusted” with his behaviour and will regret his actions for the rest of his life. The teen will be sentenced in the new year.


• In September, 19-year-old Maple Batalia is gunned down in the parkade adjoining Simon Fraser University. Batalia left a late-night study session at the school and was shot multiple times at about 1:10 a.m.


• In November, Surrey’s Liza Belcourt is found guilty of conspiring with two other men to have her former spouse, Richard Noniewicz, killed. She is to be sentenced in February.




• In April, Delta author Gurjinder Basran wins a B.C. Book Prize award for her novel Everything Was Goodbye.


• In August, Bassoonist George Zukerman, Lucille Lewis, conductor and Surrey Youth Symphony conductor, painter and mixed media artist Sheila Symington, Ed Milaney, performer and arts advocate, and longtime community booster Bonnie Burnside are named at 2011 Surrey Civic Treasures.




• In January, for several days, Kelly Scott is second-best to Kelley Law. But the defending provincial champion from Kelowna finds a way to win the Scotties B.C. Women’s Curling championships at the Cloverdale Curling Club.


• In Feburary, Cohen Hocking, an 18-year-old North Delta resident, wins four consecutive victories for a gold medal in judo at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax.


• In June, former minor hockey and BC Major Midget League teammates Tyler Wotherspoon and Laurent Brossoit are  claimed by the Calgary Flames at the National Hockey League (NHL) entry draft in Minneapolis.


• In September, five years after making his Major League Baseball debut, Adam Loewen is called up from the minor leagues by the Toronto Blue Jays.


• In October, Surrey United women hoist the Jubilee Trophy after six days of competition in Brossard, Quebec. They are already eight-time provincial champions.


• In November, Billy Greene is named winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy, awarded annually to the best player in Canadian university football.




• In September, teachers provincewide begin job action, refusing to do administrative-type duties. Non-union staff in Surrey and Delta are forced to monitor school grounds and when students receive first-term report cards, they’re blank except for teacher names, classes and attendance. The labour dispute is ongoing.


• In September, Surrey school trustees agree to phase out bottled water at school and district events and promote the benefits of tap water.


• In October, the Surrey School District finally receives money to build new school space. The provincial government announces more than $102 million to expand two local high schools, build two new elementary schools and buy land for four future schools. The district hadn’t received new school funding since 2005, leaving 250-plus portables in Surrey.


• In November, chaos erupts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University as about 350 students attend a special meeting to impeach Kwantlen Student Association members elected earlier in the year. After the fire alarm is pulled twice and pepper spray forces the building to be temporarily cleared, the meeting goes ahead. Members of the ousted group are suspended from the school and say the process was flawed and unfair. They vow they’ll take the matter to court.


The region


• Delays in B.C.’s congested court system intensifies in 2011 and the provincial government rejects initial calls for an emergency cash infusion. The number of criminal cases at risk of being thrown out due to excessive delays grows throughout the year. The issue hits a new crisis in June when the province cuts the number of sheriffs providing court security.


• In June, rioters go on the rampage in downtown Vancouver, torching cars and looting stores, in the wake of the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final. Soon after, the perpetrators are outed in photos and videos posted on social media and many are found to hail from outlying cities. By November, Vancouver Police are recommending charges against an initial batch of 60 suspects, one-third of whom are from Surrey.


• In July, TransLink unveils a series of options for eventually extending rapid transit in Surrey, dangling the possibility of light rail or bus rapid transit lines connecting White Rock and Langley. SkyTrain technology options are also on the list, but Surrey council members say they favour a light rail system. The most ambitious options would cost in excess of $2 billion, but would be many years away and dependent on TransLink getting more funding.


• In August, B.C. voters reject the Harmonized Sales Tax by a 55-per-cent margin in a mail-in vote over the summer. The provincial government pledges to return to the former provincial sales tax, but indicates it will be a complex process taking up to 18 months. The referendum result is hailed as a victory for people power but it brings new uncertainty for many businesses, which must switch back to PST accounting systems.


• In October, the region’s mayors approve a two-cent-per-litre increase in the TransLink gas tax in April to ensure the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam proceeds and for other transit upgrades. The provincial government also passes legislation enabling the increase.


• In November, a court ruling overturns part of the new stiffer penalty system against drunk drivers that government officials have credited with reducing fatalities.


• The year ends on a tragic note as a flurry of shootings over Christmas leaves three dead and one injured in Surrey, and a fourth victim dead in Langley. Police say the incidents are not gang related.


Surrey North Delta Leader

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