Whistler RCMP submits dental records for men missing since 2003 

Ed Elliot and Jamie Burnette disappeared after their car plunged into the Rutherford Creek in 2003 following a bridge washout

click to enlarge PIQUE FILE PHOTO
  • Pique file photo

The dental records of two men who disappeared, and are presumed to have drowned on the night of a torrential downpour in 2003 that washed out the Rutherford Creek Bridge, have been submitted to a provincial database for comparison.

In mid-October 2003, heavy rains left much of the Pemberton Valley under more than a metre of water, causing the erosion of considerable amounts of earth, gravel and boulder washing downstream in the Rutherford Creek. The strong water flow led to the collapse of the Rutherford Creek Bridge in the early hours of Oct. 18. Three vehicles plunged into the creek as a result.

Of the six people in the vehicles, only one survived, Casey Burnette, 22, who was driving home with his brother, Jamie, and friend Ed Elliot from their job at a Whistler nightclub.

Both Jamie and Elliot have never been found, so Whistler RCMP have submitted their dental records to the Bureau of Legal Dentistry's database at the University of British Columbia.

"It's entered into a provincial database so it's more easily comparable because a lot of times missing persons' cases are found in the same general area where they go missing, so it's a quick and easy way to make those comparisons," said Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair.

Friends Darryl Stevenson, 31, and Michael Benoit, 29, were also killed in the washout. Their car was found Oct. 19.

The body of Bob Michael Leibel, who was never officially reported missing, was found 14 months later in a stolen vehicle by a crew dredging the creek. Leibel, who had moved to Pemberton from Prince George, stole lottery tickets, cigarettes and under $1,000 cash from Pemberton's Pioneer Junction Shell gas station, where he worked, on the morning of Oct. 18, presumably in lieu of wages and so he could return to his girlfriend and children in Prince George.

As a result of the fatal bridge collapse, B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation undertook a province-wide evaluation program to identify bridges that are vulnerable to extreme erosion from heavy rain. Since 2008, more than 500 bridges have been assessed, according to the Ministry.

At the Rutherford Creek Bridge a safety alarm system was installed after the accident on the north side of the approach to the bridge in the event of a failure of the nearby Rutherford Power plant's penstock, which controls water flow.

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