Residents gathered outside the Kelowna Law Courts, half an hour before 20-year-old alleged hamster killer Leighton Labute made his second appearance in front of a judge since being charged earlier this year. (Photo Michael Rodriguez)

Weekly roundup: Protest over alleged hamster killer, West Kelowna rapist faces new allegations, Christie Mountain wildfire

A look at the top stories of the week

A look at the top stories of the week.

Protest held over alleged hamster killer outside Kelowna Law Courts

*Graphic warning: Story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.*

Residents gathered outside the Kelowna Law Courts on Tuesday (Aug. 25) afternoon to protest the rights of animals after Leighton Allen Labute, an alleged hamster killer, was scheduled to appear before a judge.

The protest began at 1 p.m. outside the Kelowna Law Courts, several hours after Labute made his second appearance by video since being charged earlier this year.

In May, Labute, 20, was charged with three counts of killing or injuring an animal and three counts of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal, all of which stem from an alleged incident of him torturing hamsters in May 2019.

West Kelowna man convicted of rape faces new allegations

A West Kelowna man who is out on bail while appealing his conviction and subsequent five-year prison sentence for a 2016 rape is now facing new allegations of threatening a woman from earlier this month.

After being convicted of sexual assault causing bodily harm, unlawful confinement, choking with intent to enable himself to commit an indictable offence and uttering threats in May 2018, Jeremy Czechowski appealed his conviction the same day he was handed a five-year sentence on April 5, 2019. He was subsequently granted bail.

The Crown approved a new charge against Czechowski for uttering threats on Aug. 5, 2020, in relation to an incident that is alleged to have happened two days prior.

According to court documents, the woman told police she attended a gathering at the Enderby River on Aug. 3. The party became too rowdy for her and she left, but accidentally left her car keys in Czechowski’s truck.

When she spoke with Czechowski on the phone, she alleged he threatened to kill her and kidnap her child. The police report also shows a copy of a Facebook message from the appellant to the complainant in which he states, “I know where you live” and “[it’s] on now.”

COSAR called to assist with high-angle rescue in Myra Canyon

Kelowna Fire and Rescue has called upon COSAR for assistance with a rescue at Myra Canyon.

COSAR’s winch-equipped helicopter is now headed to the scene where a man fell down a 40-foot embankment near trestle 14 of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.

A COSAR member on scene said the man will be transported to hospital as soon as he is brought back up.

A rescue helicopter from Vernon SAR is also reportedly responding.

Central Okanagan School District unveils back to school plan

The Central Okanagan School District (SD23) has unveiled its back to school plan for the 2020/21 school year — featuring a slew of strict new safety precautions.

As students return to class on Sept. 10, elementary students will see a semi-normal schedule, being grouped in regular classes, according to the 18-page plan dropped by the school district on Tuesday, Aug. 26.

For elementary students, breaks, recess, and lunchtimes will be staggered, so that only one learning group is in an assigned area (i.e. gym, library, playground, playfield) at any given time.

Middle school students will also attend classes full-time but will see learning groups of no more than 60 people, including adults. In situations where the number of adults exceeds the learning group size of 60, those adults will social distance and are required to wear masks.

Grade 9 students will also be in classes full-time but will have electives grouped to minimize the size of the learning groups (typical size will be 25 to 90 each quarter).

The district mentioned middle school students will have 100 per cent face-to-face instruction, but this can easily be adapted and adjusted to remote learning if need be.

Grade 10 to 12 students will attend school 75 per cent of the time, alternating between full-days and half-days. Students will take two classes every ten weeks, attending a morning class full time and an afternoon class 50 per cent of the time.

Kelowna cabbie accused of sexual assault pleads guilty to lesser offence

A former Kelowna cab driver received a conditional discharge on Friday, Aug. 28, after pleading guilty to committing an indecent act in a public place.

In the early morning hours of May 26, 2019, Gagandeep Singh Sidhu, 38, picked up a fare to drive a woman in her 20s home from the bar.

Upon arriving at the woman’s home, she became sick and began vomiting in a nearby garbage bin.

Footage from security cameras at the house showed Sidhu approach the woman and put one hand on her back. He positioned himself behind the woman and appeared to start masturbating.

The next day, the woman’s father watched the security footage and informed the police. The man was subsequently arrested and charged with sexual assault.

In court on Friday, Sidhu pled guilty to the lesser charge of committing an indecent act.

A joint submission from both the Crown and defence counsel suggested Sidhu be conditionally discharged due to his status as a permanent resident in Canada. If convicted, he would’ve likely been repatriated to India.

Christie Mountain wildfire

The Christie Mountain wildfire remains stagnant with minimal growth, allowing crews to continue moving around the flanks.

For Tuesday, Aug. 25, 192 firefighters will work on-site in conjunction with structure protection personnel and multiple fire departments. Crews will continue to build upon the ongoing progress on the southwest flank of the fire strengthening control lines for value protection.

Crews will be supported by 15 helicopters and four water tenders. Firefighters will continue to work on access points and contingency lines on the north and east flanks with eight pieces of heavy machinery.

An aerial scan was completed on a portion of the southwest flank of the blaze, on Monday. Ground crews will use the results of the scan, to extinguish any hot spots that were identified within the fire perimeter.

New restaurant AT 509 to open on Bernard Avenue in Kelowna

A new restaurant that embraces local food and beverages will be the latest to join the vibrant downtown atmosphere on Bernard Avenue in Kelowna.

Formerly known as the Grateful Fed and then for a short while Vibes, the new restaurant is re-branding as AT 509, which is fitting based on its location at 509 Bernard.

Executive chef Kevin Negoro is the mind behind the concept and menu at 509. He was formerly the executive chef at the popular dining spot FSH on Saint Paul Street and will look to keep a fresh outlook with his latest project.

“It’s definitely cutting edge gastro-pub food,” said Negoro. “We’re trying to go with a concept of comfort food that people recognize but with a serious twist.”

Negoro said he is stirring away from all the stereotypical pub food, such as chicken wings. He said 509 will aim to make food hand-crafted-in-house to the best of its ability. The restaurant’s wine and beer are all locally based and its cocktail menu will also be unique to the establishment.

“We’re trying to support as much local as possible,” said Negoro. “It’s really important for us to give back to the community that supported us going through all the obstacles that we have.”

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