The man convicted in the 1987 deaths of Saanich residents Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook saw his conviction overturned in 2021 due to juror bias, an appeals court found. (Family photos)

The man convicted in the 1987 deaths of Saanich residents Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook saw his conviction overturned in 2021 due to juror bias, an appeals court found. (Family photos)

Looking back on the top Saanich stories of 2021

6 stories that captured the interest of Saanich News readers over the past year

Although COVID-19 continued to dominate the headlines in 2021, many other stories piqued the interest of Saanich News readers this year.

Here’s a recap of the stories that readers gravitated to the most in 2021 at saanichnews.com.

1. Conviction overturned in Saanich teens cold-case murder

The double murder conviction of William Earl Talbott, found guilty in the cold case 1987 homicide of a young B.C. couple, was overturned in December as a result of juror bias.

In 2018, forensic genealogy led to Talbott’s arrest 31 years after the bodies of Saanich couple Tanya van Cuylenborg, 18, and Jay Cook, 20, were found in northern Washington state.

A year later Talbott was found guilty by a jury of two counts of aggravated murder in the first degree and given two life sentences. He appealed on the grounds that his right to an impartial jury was violated due to the bias of one juror who deliberated his case.

Talbott will face a new trial unless prosecutors prevail in their appeal of the overturned conviction to the state Supreme Court. The deadline to request a review from the higher court is Jan. 5, 2022, said Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell.

2. Saanich firefighters free trapped workers at Uptown Walmart

On Apr. 9 Saanich firefighters freed trapped staff at Walmart after a driver rammed through the wall of a lower parking area. The incident was initially reported as an explosion since the sound of the crash had been so loud.

In the late afternoon that day, firefighters worked to free staff members who were stuck in a freezer as a result of being pinned inside by the vehicle.

Deputy Chief Dan Wood said the driver drove through the concrete wall and 20 feet into the store, pinning the freezer door closed when the vehicle came to a stop. The driver was not seriously injured but was taken to the hospital afterward.

All staff were safely removed and no one was seriously injured.

On Apr. 13 it was reported that the driver, a male in his early 20s, may have been suffering from a mental health crisis and received the appropriate hospital care thereafter.

3. Mother says son’s life turned around at Saanich jail

Readers were moved by the story of a mother with a positive story to share about her late son’s turnaround at Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre – located on Wilkinson Road in Saanich – before his passing.

Sher Wilson said her son was reformed by the positive treatment he received during his time in the Saanich correctional centre.

Matthew Wilson endured nothing short of a difficult past, Sher said, with mental health issues and involvement in gangs that ultimately led to what she described as his psychotic break.

He attempted to murder her with a hammer in her own home. Sher survived the attack and her son was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail.

It was not his only time spent in jail, but sharing this particular story was important to Sher, she said, because the empathy she saw exhibited by staff at the correctional facility turned her once-violent son into someone she described as more generous, spiritual, and thoughtful.

4. Island Health promises action after criticism of Victoria hospital’s psychiatric unit

In March, Island Health said they were taking extra care to improve psychiatric services at a Victoria hospital after receiving critiques from two young women.

The women, former patients of the Royal Jubilee Hospital’s Psychiatric Emergency Services unit said they were belittled, patronized and dismissed by staff when they were admitted for care.

In response, Island Health said unit staff strive to provide the best care possible and that they would work to strengthen the process for patients to have their voices heard.

Emma Epp, 19, and Ella Hale, 18, eventually took their concerns directly to Premier John Horgan and Keva Glynn, Island Health’s director of Mental Health and Substance Use services.

Hale said the commitments from Island Health were nice to hear, but she expected to see real action.

“When we see things happen we’ll start to believe them,” she said. “Apologies and words are easy. Action is what’s harder.”

5. Pair of Saanich brothers help to save friend while hiking Mount Douglas Park

While hiking in Mount Douglas Park in mid-March, a pair of brothers helped save their close friend and roommate, who had collapsed.

The brothers and their respective girlfriends were hiking with the friend when he collapsed at the top of the Mount Douglas summit.

Someone called 911 and in the meantime, the men used their paramedic training on their friend until more help arrived. One is a firefighter with the Victoria Fire Department and the other had also completed CPR training. Emergency crews that responded credited the pair for preventing a far worse outcome.

The man who collapsed, in his early 30s, later recovered in hospital.

6. Greater Victoria in high demand on website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

An online service created by Nanaimo resident Don Gayton in 2020 was developed to help residents find a family doctor. Given the chronic shortage of family physicians in Greater Victoria, the story of the website lit up the Saanich News in October 2020, and continued to attract reader attention through 2021.

A fee is included on FindaDoctorbc.ca to help patients find physicians who are accepting new patients. Approximately 250 family clinics, representing 1,500 doctors, are monitored and more clinics are added on a regular basis. Users are notified by an alert system on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Gayton said the demand for family physicians far outweighs the supply in Greater Victoria.

“The idea of everyone calling all the clinics – what a burden on the clinics that is – and a burden on the patients,” he said. “So I think there must be a better way to do it, but it’s not easy in a place like Victoria.”


Do you have a story tip? Email: megan.atkinsbaker@saanichnews.com.

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2021 Year in ReviewDistrict of SaanichSaanich

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