The estranged partner of the man accused of burning Ainsworth’s historic Silver Ledge Hotel testified Tuesday that she warned him “Just don’t do anything stupid.”
Catherine Brewer was the first witness on the opening day of the trial in Nelson Provincial Court. Randy Hanoski, 54, has pleaded not guilty to one count of arson.
Brewer told Judge Ron Fabbro, who is hearing the case without a jury, that the fire on June 3, 2010 occurred a day after the courts ordered Hanoski to leave the property.
The couple co-owned the hotel, used in recent years as a summer museum, as well as an adjacent trailer also destroyed in the fire. They were in a relationship that broke down after several years and an attempted reconciliation, Brewer said.
Couple had plans for hotel
They bought the Silver Ledge property in February 2007 and had joint tenancy. Hanoski contributed $60,000 toward the purchase, Brewer put in $140,000, Hanoski’s brother loaned them $20,000, and they also took out a $250,000 mortgage on Brewer’s mother’s farm. The total purchase price for the hotel, trailer, and land, including transfer costs, came to about $306,000.
The couple moved to Ainsworth in the summer of 2008 and lived in the trailer, although they sometimes stayed in the hotel, Brewer testified.
They had “lots” of plans for the property.
“We hoped to run some kind of restaurant and rent rooms,” she said.
However, their relationship was already deteriorating, and in October 2008, she left Hanoski for a few months, going to visit family in Vancouver and Calgary.
She returned in January 2009, and they attended couples counseling, but it “didn’t go well,” and by mid-June, the relationship was over.
Hanoski moved into a heated room in the hotel and slept there, although because the building had no kitchen or running water, he returned to the trailer to use the washroom and cook, Brewer testified.
In November, she moved into a friend’s cabin and stayed there until the following spring. Hanoski remained in the trailer.
Hanoski ordered to leave
On May 17, 2010, a BC Supreme Court judge ordered Hanoski to stay in the hotel and Brewer in the trailer until the matter was revisited in a few weeks.
By that point Brewer, who works at Pennywise, said she was living “hand-to-mouth,” but still paying the mortgage on her mother’s farm, without help from Hanoski. She now intended to put the Silver Ledge back up for sale.
Following the court order, Brewer testified Hanoski removed everything from the trailer except the bed, taking cupboards and “every stick of furniture.”
She further told the court Hanoski diverted water from the trailer to the hotel.
In the meantime, she moved to a friend’s property at Shutty Bench, and called Hanoski’s eldest brother in Calgary.
“I was afraid of how he was going to react after the June 2 hearing,” she testified.
At that hearing, the judge ordered him to leave the premises by noon the next day and only take specific personal possessions, like a toothbrush and razor.
Brewer said she was appointed receiver to prepare the property for auction or sale and given sole occupancy and possession of the hotel. However, during the hearing, Brewer said Hanoski didn’t seem to understand what was happening, and was “lost in the procedure.” Afterward, he “looked devastated and lost and shell-shocked.”
According to Brewer, she and Hanoski walked down the street, and she said they would have to talk about how to settle matters.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she recalled telling him.
She quoted Hanoski as replying: “What can I do? I’ve lost control. I’ve lost everything.”
Brewer said she told him: “I don’t know. Just don’t do anything stupid.”
‘Tore’ to the fire scene
Brewer said she went to the trailer about 6 p.m. that evening, but Hanoski wasn’t there. She then went to the hotel, and spoke to him briefly through a broken window and suggested they exchange keys the next day. Brewer said she told him that she wouldn’t do anything with his belongings, including tools and furniture in the hotel.
She described his demeanor as “cold and angry.”
Brewer said she received a call the next day shortly before 7:30 a.m. from a friend telling her the hotel was on fire, and she “just tore” to the scene.
Hanoski was not there, but she heard he mailed a letter the previous day and told police she was worried it might be a suicide note.
Around noon, Hanoski was arrested near the scene of the fire. He was held in custody in Trail, then released on conditions and has since been living with family in Calgary.
Brewer said although she did not have the property appraised prior to the fire, she planned to auction it for a minimum bid of $270,000. Since then, the vacant property has been appraised at $93,000.
Defence challenges police officer’s account
The second witness to testify was Trail RCMP Sgt. Mike Wicentowich, who described Hanoski as “very calm, quiet, and cooperative” when taken into custody.
Wicentowich initially testified that he searched a Roots bag Hanoski was carrying and found a black Bic lighter in it, which he placed on the hood of a police car.
However, under cross-examination, defence lawyer Tyleen Underwood showed Wicentowich what she called an “occurrence report,” and he admitted the lighter was found on Hanoski’s person, not in the bag.
Wicentowich further agreed he did not see the lighter until five days after the fire, at the cell block at the Trail detachment.
Two other civilian witnesses who were among the first on the scene of the fire also testified Tuesday.
Trial resumes Wednesday
The Crown expects to call up to 10 more witnesses, while the defence has not indicated how many witnesses it will call or outlined its arguments.
The trial is expected to run through Friday.
The Silver Ledge, built in 1896, was not insured. Although some furniture that belonged to Brewer and Hanoski was removed prior to the fire, Brewer said in court that “a lot of furnishings and antiques” were lost in the flames.
Hanoski appeared in court Tuesday wearing a black suit, tie, and white shirt. He sat behind his lawyer and occasionally wrote things down in a notebook, but did not speak during the proceedings.
Brewer told the court Hanoski was a wood carver in Calgary, and had a business doing furniture touch-up and repair until 2005, but wasn’t working at the time of the fire. He belonged to the Kaslo volunteer fire department for six or eight months, she added.
A handful of Brewer’s relatives and supporters were present in the gallery.
The case resumes Wednesday morning with Nelson fire investigator Mike Daloise and Cranbrook RCMP Cpl. Pat Prefontaine expected to testify.
A hearing is expected on the admissibility of statements Hanoski made at the scene and in the police vehicle while en route to Trail.
A separate hearing will deal with a letter the Crown alleges Hanoski mailed the evening before the fire.