An alert police officer and a provincial conservation officer with animal-tracking skills are being praised for their teamwork in finding the body of a slain blind girl and arresting a suspect along a dark and lonely road in northern British Columbia.
RCMP Corporal Dan Moskaluk of B.C.'s North District Major Crimes Unit said the case against Cody Alan Legebokoff, 20, who has been charged with one count of murder in the death of 15-year-old Loren Donn Leslie, began to unfold on Saturday night when a pickup truck swerved off a logging road onto Stuart Lake Highway.
By coincidence, an RCMP officer was passing by and reacted quickly, pulling over the truck, questioning the driver and then having a conservation officer search the woods nearby.
"We have to, of course, state the obvious - yeah, we've got some good work that was done here," Cpl. Moskaluk said.
He said the RCMP officer had legal grounds to stop the truck.
"There was some driving pattern . . . there may have been speed involved, which caught the officer's eye," Cpl. Moskaluk said. "It was how the vehicle entered . . . the highway and pulled away from there [that]drew attention."
He said the RCMP officer, who has not yet been named, was headed south from the detachment in Fort St. James to deliver some items to a colleague who was headed north from Vanderhoof.
They were to rendezvous along the Stuart Lake Highway, a spur road to the Highway of Tears, which links Prince Rupert to Prince George and is infamous because 18 girls or women have been murdered or disappeared along it over the past 20 years.
Cpl. Moskaluk said the continuing Highway of Tears investigation, which is the focus of a police task force, has made every RCMP officer in the region more vigilant.
"Certainly, the members themselves that are in all these communities . . . are all very, very sensitive to what has been ongoing," he said.
The RCMP task force is officially investigating the deaths or disappearances of 18 women. But the tally could be higher. Just last month, the body of Cynthia Frances Maas, 35, was found in a park near Prince George, and in August, 23-year-old Natasha Lynn Montgomery vanished. She was last seen in Prince George.
Ms. Leslie, legally blind with 50 per cent vision in one eye and zero in the other, was last seen by her family in Fort St. James on Saturday afternoon, when she said she was going out for coffee with a friend. Police have not said whether the girl had been reported missing.
Her father, Doug Leslie, said to CTV News that he was told his daughter planned to go for a drive with Mr. Legebokoff, an acquaintance, the day she was killed.
It was 9:45 on Saturday night when the officer saw the pickup truck pull onto the highway off the little used logging road in a heavily forested area 22 km north of Vanderhoof.
Cpl. Moskaluk praised the officer for taking the initiative.
"What you've just seen there is what we would describe as self-generated work," he said. "You know the adage of 'when in doubt, check it out' comes to mind."
After the truck driver was questioned, police made a late night call to Cam Hill, a conservation officer in Vanderhoof who has been busy in recent weeks dealing with moose and deer poaching in the area.
Mr. Hill drove to the scene, then traced the truck's route back up the road, and in the freshly fallen snow followed tracks to the girl's body.
"It's interesting ... that's on our side when we work in winter climate," Cpl. Moskaluk said of the signs left in the snow. "You know, it can speak for itself to a high degree as to what you have and who's been there."
He said police put a no-fly order over the crime scene to keep media helicopters from possibly stirring up snow and covering tracks.
Cpl. Moskaluk said with the accused set to make a first appearance in court on Wednesday, and autopsy results coming, police will soon have more to say about the case, including naming the arresting officer whose actions led to the uncovering of a fresh crime scene.
"Right now, the focus and where we are in priorities is a continuation of the processing of forensic evidence, and a big priority too is dealing with the family through this ordeal," he said.
Mr. Hill, who wasn't named by police but who confirmed his involvement in a phone call, declined to comment, except to say that in small towns, conservation officers and police often join forces.
"We have an excellent working relationship," he said.
Relatives of the accused man refused to comment when reached in Fort St. James.
Police asked media to respect the privacy of Ms. Leslie's family "while they deal with this tragic situation."