Second death in two days at Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park encampment under investigation

“To lose two lives in two days in one of the most beautiful parks in our city is really nothing short of a tragedy.”

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VICTORIA — For the second time in two days, police are investigating a death in Beacon Hill Park.

A man died when fire broke out in his van in the parking lot adjacent to the petting zoo about 8 a.m. Thursday.

After talking to investigators at the scene, Ryan Lockhart said the victim was his older brother, Mike Lockhart, who turned 60 in January.

Lockhart learned of his brother’s death when his girlfriend sent him an online news story about the fire. He said he could see his brother’s van in the background of the photograph.

“My brother Mike’s been living down here since last year,” said a tearful Lockhart. “My mother passed away a couple of years ago and he didn’t quite recover from it. So he turned to drinking and that was his thing. He didn’t want to have a regular job.”

Lockhart said he suspects a heating source might have caused the fire.

“He was probably trying to keep himself warm and he fell asleep. Carbon monoxide poisoning is probably what I am guessing, but the police will have the final say on that.”

Early Wednesday, Victoria police were called to the park after a woman’s body was found near Dallas Road, between Douglas and Cook streets. Detectives are looking for witnesses and information as they continue to investigate the death. Police would like to talk to any pedestrians, cyclists or drivers who were in the area between midnight on Tuesday and 6 a.m. Wednesday.

“To lose two lives in two days in one of the most beautiful parks in our city is really nothing short of a tragedy,” said Victoria police Chief Del Manak, adding the investigations into both deaths are in their very early stages.

Manak asked anyone with information about either incident that might be helpful to the investigation to call VicPD’s non-emergency number. “We would love to have investigators just talk to them to find out if the information they have is relevant,” he said.

Lockhart said he was able to reconnect with his brother when he ended up living in a friend’s van in Beacon Hill Park for a few months last summer due to the pandemic. The last time he saw Mike was three week ago, he said.

“He was really trying to get his life back in order. He just started getting his union pension. He’s been a rigger for years. He’s worked all over the ships. I betcha this summer would have been the summer he would have been able to clean up his act, get a place … But when your time is up, your time is up.”

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Before the pandemic, Mike drove around and found different places to stay, Lockhart said. Once the pandemic hit, however, it was easier for him to move to Beacon Hill Park. “But he was by no means homeless or helpless,” he said.

Mike Lockhart, who has a daughter, was one of four brothers in a family originally from Dartmouth, N.S.

Several people who knew Mike were in tears Thursday morning. Support workers were giving out breakfasts as forensic identification officers examined the van behind yellow crime tape.

Alex Painter, who lives in a refurbished ambulance in the parking lot, said he was asleep when the fire broke out.

“I woke up hearing ‘bang, bang, bang.’ The city workers were trying to wake him up because they could see smoke coming out of the roof of his van.”

A few minutes later, firefighters were on the scene, he said.

Our Place director of communications Grant McKenzie said he has heard of several displaced people who have been camping in vans in the park.

When you’re cold and wet, “you’ll do anything to stay warm and dry,” said McKenzie, who says 24/7 camping is not the answer to the lack of affordable housing.

“We would much rather see people in hotels or even the arena — someplace where there is that supervision, where there’s that one-on-one with outreach workers that really assess people on their individual needs.”

Those living in encampments like the one in Beacon Hill Park are in survival mode, he said, “where you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”

He said people who move into some form of housing often undergo a “dramatic” change for the better. “It takes a couple of weeks for people to settle in and also to build that trust.”

The City of Victoria and the province are working to have space indoors by March 31 for the more than 200 people living in parks or on the streets.

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