Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Guilty verdict urged for deadly Prince George arson

Justin Aster seen leaving scene in "determined strides" at about the time fire broke out at Econo Lodge Motel, court told

A combination of security camera videos and statements to police should add up to guilty verdicts for a man accused of setting a deadly fire at a downtown Prince George motel, a Crown prosecutor submitted during a closing argument on Monday.

Justin Kyle Aster faces three counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count each of arson in relation to an inhabited property and arson damaging property from the July 8, 2020 fire that killed three people staying at the Econo Lodge Motel at the corner of Victoria Street and Ninth Avenue.

Going over evidence presented during a 12-day trial, Crown prosecutor John Hempstead said that in the aftermath of the fire, RCMP were able to identify a person of interest by going through many hours of video collected from the motel and neighbouring businesses.

In turn, a general duty officer recognized Aster from a previous investigation. Photos taken by police at that time showed tattoos on Aster that matched those of the person seen on the videos, Hempstead told the court.

He said the videos show the person suspected to be Aster dressed in summer attire entering the motel's courtyard through a breezeway at the east end, coming back out shortly afterwards and changing into a hoodie and pants, putting on gloves, crudely cutting his hair, tossing his backpack to the side, then re-entering the courtyard.

He said that DNA collected from a sock police found at the scene matched Aster's. A pair of shorts also found matched those seen on the video, he told the court.

Experts witnesses concluded the fire was likely started in a pile of debris from a renovation that had been left under a staircase at the east end. A "whisp" of white smoke from either cardboard or cloth set alight gave way to a black plume as it became hot enough to set ablaze polyurethane foam also in the pile.

Hempstead spent much of his presentation discounting alternative theories for the fire's cause, namely oily rags combusting on a hot summer day, a fault in the electrical wiring and an errant cigarette. 

In contrast to the "meandering" he displayed prior his initial entry into the courtyard, a video shows Aster leaving the scene in "determined strides" and heading toward Connaught Hill after retrieving his backpack, Hempstead argued.

Aster was initially apprehended three days after the fire but not charged. But in September 2021, he was re-arrested and charged. 

Aster admitted to police to being the person seen on the videos, but only "reluctantly" and maintained he did not set the fire.

Until he was shown video, the accused also initially denied knowledge of being at the Tim Hortons across the street earlier that morning. Aster then said an employee had treated him poorly and that he left in an "animated way."

Aster said he was not on drugs at the time and  went over to the Econo Lodge "looking for dope."

Defence counsel is to make final arguments on Tuesday.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks