Lila Casey (right), the oldest of 16 children raised in the Chilcotin, and her nephew’s wife Rochelle Binette are hoping other communities in Canada will learn from the tragic death of David Jeff during the Williams Lake wildfire evacuation. Angie Mindus photo

Family of B.C. wildfire victim wants better emergency preparedness for vulnerable people

Williams Lake’s David Jeff “fell through the cracks”

The family of wildfire evacuee David Jeff is hoping his death won’t be in vain.

Jeff’s sister Lila Casey and her nephew’s wife Rochelle Binette would like to see communities across Canada learn from their tragedy and include their most vulnerable citizens in better emergency preparedness planning in the future.

“He fell through the cracks,” said Binette. “It was really hard because, if you remember at the time, the roads were closed in all directions and families were split up and it was difficult to get a hold of anybody.”

Casey said she wasn’t even aware her brother was missing after the city evacuated.

Read more: Community saddened by news of David Jeff’s death

“Hopefully this can bring awareness to other family members or anybody in a situation like this.”

Jeff was a member of the community of Tsi Del Del (Redstone), but lived much of his life on the streets of Williams Lake.

He suffered from mental illness and alcoholism, which the family believes was the result of years of abuse in residential school at the St. Joseph’s Mission, where he was molested.

Casey remembers her brother, one of 16 children born to Thomas and Lily Jeff, as a quiet and content boy growing up who loved water and spent his summers swimming, picking berries and fishing.

“He was a happy young boy. He was very protective of us, and when he went fishing and caught a fish he’d eat very little because he wanted the younger ones to have more to eat than he did.”

Casey said as a young adult she saw her brother change.

“He kept it all inside,” she said of the abuse.

“He wasn’t talking as much. Mom said she noticed that too.”

Read more: A life lost

Jeff was accepted for who he was in Williams Lake, and spent a lot of time in Boitanio Park where he could often be seen playing his guitar.

Casey said she is very sad about the circumstances surrounding Jeff’s death — that he was away from home, that they don’t know when he passed away and that he was located in a pulp mill settling pond.

“If I had known he was by himself I would have called around and tried to find somewhere for him to go,” said Casey, who lives in Hope. “I thought someone was with him.”

She feels her brother, who did not like the heat of Kamloops, was either looking for a way home or to escape the heat when he died.

The family said they are thankful for the support they have received from the BC RCMP, and also that of Tsi Del Del and the Canadian Red Cross who are donating money toward Jeff’s Celebration of Life.

“It was very kind and generous of them to offer help for the funeral arrangements,” Binette said.

That event will take place Friday, March 23 at the Longhouse in Williams Lake from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Everyone is welcome.

Read more: Remember the vulnerable during emergencies

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The family of David Jeff, 67, seen here in September 2016 at Boitanio Park, is hosting a celebration of life Friday for the man, who was raised in the Chilcotin but became a familiar face in Williams Lake over the years. Angie Mindus/Tribune file photo

Just Posted

Sooke council approves new funding for chamber of commerce

A $16,000 service agreement to be created

Victoria traffic stop yields drugs, case full of weapons

Police seize firearms, swords and flares

Suspect taken into custody after allegedly attempting to steal a dinghy in Sidney

The incident happened Wednesday morning near Beacon Wharf

Victoria Police arrest man wanted for fraud offences

Michael Friesen arrested on Johnson Street

Colwood art centre shuts its doors indefinitely

Board members look for new location when feasible, continue online

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

West Coast Trail to remain closed for now

Federal government won’t open world-famous trek until its First Nations are ready for visitors

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Most Read