The last text message Taylor Van Diest sent read, “I’m being crept.”
Another partial message was waiting in her phone’s queue, but the Armstrong teen never finished it. Hours later her body was found face down in a ditch. She was still breathing, but a jury heard Monday she wasn’t responsive as friends, family and emergency staff tended to her.
Although there were signs of strangulation, it was blows to the head that ultimately killed the 18-year-old Halloween night 2011.
Insights into Van Diest’s final moments came during the opening day of the first degree murder trial for Cherryville man Matthew Foerster, 28, who Crown Counsel alleged Monday has already expressed remorse for a sexual assault gone awry.
In opening statements Crown Counsel Frank Caputo highlighted an interview the Cherryville man had with a Sgt. Davidson, which will be played for a jury some time in the next week-and-a-half of testimony.
“Matt, look me in the eye and tell me this: Do you feel bad for killing Taylor,” said Sgt. Davidson, during an interview Caputo said was recorded April 6, 2012.
“Yes,” Foerster allegedly said.
“You didn’t mean to… you went for sex and if she didn’t fight you you wouldn’t have killed her,” Sgt. Davidson said in the transcript.
In addition to Davidson, Caputo will call upon 15 other witnesses as Crown Counsel makes a case for first degree murder.
Two of those witnesses took the stand on Monday morning.
Const. Milan Ilic was working in Armstrong the night Van Diest was reported missing, and testified he got the call about a missing teen wearing a zombie costume that night.
He drove by dozens of children and teens in costumes, scanning the crowd for Van Diest, before he parked near the railroad tracks that run through the city of Armstrong, close to the old cheese factory.
Instantly he was greeted by three people.
“A male knocked on the window, and asked if I was looking for Taylor,” Ilic said.
The trio, who included two of Taylor’s friends and her mother, told Ilic they had been searching for the teen since her cell phone was found by the railway tracks earlier, and she had failed to show up at the party where she’d been expected.
The young man in the group, identified only as Clay in court, asked Const. Ilic for his flashlight, and was denied, as the police officer had to use it himself.
Around that time Ilic was also informed that the police dog team that was going to be dispatched had been cancelled, he testified.
All four then started down the railway tracks.
“We walked 15 feet and four-to-five males were hollering and yelling, ‘are you looking for the missing girl?'” Ilic told the court.
He learned they were the ones who had found Van Diest’s cell phone earlier that night, but as he started asking them more questions, he was distracted.
“I heard a male voice saying “Taylor. Taylor. Taylor,” he said.
“I heard the kids say, ‘run. run.'”
Illic said they all ran toward the direction of the voices.
“In a ditch by the railways tracks there was a young female and Clay and Zoe were on top of her, hugging her,” he testified.
“Then Taylor’s mom went into the ditch.”
As Van Diest lay stomach down, with the left side of her head on a steel pipe, they checked her breathing and she was covered by their jackets.
Van Diest’s mother held her and repeated, “you’re going to make it. You’ll survive. You’re going to make it,” said Ilic, who was brought to near tears several times during his testimony.
Paramedics were called at some point and they put Van Diest on a gurney and transported her to Vernon Jubilee Hospital so she could be stabilized. He noted that when in the hospital room with Van Diest as she was being treated he saw marks on her neck, and her bottom lip appeared to be bitten, although not bleeding.
In cross examination, Foerster’s lawyer Lisa Helps said to Ilic that it sounded like one of those cases where things “move quickly.”
Helps then asked him if he recalled taking anything from his pockets before he covered Van Diest with his jacket.
He said that he removed a box of pens, which he discarded, and some keys which he put in his pocket.
When she asked if he removed alcohol, or had been drinking on the night Van Diest was found, he said no.
Crown Counsel also called upon a nurse who collected the DNA from Van Diest that was later matched to Foerster.
She recalled Van Diest being treated, and said she “Just knew the person was quite sick.”
The trial is expected to take up to three weeks.