The Balmoral Tower in North Surrey

The Balmoral Tower in North Surrey

The Surrey Six – six years later

Trial begins Monday for three of six accused in B.C.’s worst gang-related attack.

It was around 4:30 in the afternoon on Oct. 19, 2007 when the Surrey Fire Department got the call.

There was a report of several unconscious people on the 15th floor of a Surrey highrise – possibly the result of a gas leak.

When crews arrived, it was apparent it was much more than that. Firefighters quickly realized they had a grisly crime scene in front of them and called police.

Earlier that afternoon, six people had been shot and left to die in apartment 1505 of the Balmoral Tower, 9830 E. Whalley Ring Rd.

Four of the deceased were young men known to police as gangsters with links to the drug trade. Dead were Edward Narong, 22, 19-year-old Ryan Bartolomeo, and brothers Corey and Michael Lal, 21 and 26 years old, respectively.

The other two slain men, however, were regular people with regular lives – simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, police said. The killers, police speculated, didn’t want to leave any witnesses to the execution of the other four men.

Abbotsford gasfitter Ed Schellenberg, 55, was servicing gas fireplaces in the building that afternoon.

He’d been working at the highrise all that week.

Christopher Mohan, 22, lived in a neighbouring suite on the 15th floor of the Balmoral with his parents and sister, and was off work that day. He was planning to go play basketball with his friends the afternoon he was gunned down.

The mass murder – with two innocent victims – shocked even the most veteran officers, and investigators appealed to others in the gang underworld for their assistance.

“The despicable persons responsible for these crimes do not deserve your respect,” said Insp. Wayne Rideout at the time. “They do not deserve your loyalty and they do not deserve your protection.”

As the months wore on, the victims’ families weren’t told much, but were reassured to have faith in the process.

Finally, in April 2009, a year-and-a-half after the murders, one man (whose name is shielded by a publication ban) pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder, for killing Mohan, Bartolomeo and Michael Lal. He is now serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 15 years.

The next day, police announced more charges and the arrest of James (Jamie) Kyle Bacon, the youngest of the notorious trio of Bacon brothers, as well as New Westminster’s Matthew James Johnston and Cody Rae Haevischer, from Nanaimo.

Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le, who had fled to his native Vietnam, was arrested two months later. And a sixth, Cloverdale’s Sophon Sek, was arrested and charged with manslaughter in November 2009.

Haevischer, Le, Johnson, and Bacon all face first-degree murder charges, as well as conspiracy charges.

Haevischer, Johnston, and Le are being tried together starting Monday (Sept. 30) in Vancouver Supreme Court.

Bacon, who is currently serving time on unrelated weapons offences, is being tried separately, with a date yet to be set.

All have been in custody since their arrests, except Sek, who has been out on bail and is due in court in January.

Haevischer, Le, and Johnston will be tried by judge alone. The trial could last as long as a year and involve up to 20 Crown and defence lawyers.

Surrey Six complications

Four RCMP investigators connected to the case were charged and suspended in 2010 after one was accused of having an affair with a witness.

Sgt. Derek Brassington, along with three others – Cpl. Danny Michaud, Cpl. Paul Johnston,  and Sgt. David Attew – are accused of multiple criminal counts, including obstruction of justice, fraud, and compromising the safety of a witness.

It’s alleged Brassington and Attew claimed false expenses and overtime while investigating the case, while the other two covered for them. Brassington and Attew each face charges of breach of trust, obstruction of justice, and fraud, while Johnston and Michaud face charges of breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

In May, a theft-under-$5,000 charge was approved against Brassington in connection to an unrelated off-duty incident in Burnaby. His voluntary discharge from the RCMP was announced simultaneously.

Earlier this month, a separate matter arose when an undercover RCMP member’s notebook was found in the officer’s former home.

The 200-page book included observations and photos of suspects in the case and was returned to RCMP. Police said such books are the property of officers and used to refresh their memories while in court.

Also read: An interview with Eileen Mohan and Lois Schellenberg.

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