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BC man guilty of dousing cop in gas and threatening to light him on fire

Blake Dergez was convicted Friday of assaulting a police officer but was acquitted of five counts of assault using bear spray.
The Vernon courthouse

Lasers in pilots' eyes, bear spray, methamphetamine and an RCMP officer doused in gasoline; a recent Vernon court case was quite the wild ride.

After a trial last fall, Vernon's Blake Dergez was convicted Friday of assaulting a police officer with gasoline and threatening to light him on fire, but he was acquitted of five counts of assault using bear spray.

The strange case stems from an incident back on the evening of Sept. 9, 2021, when NAV Canada reached out to the RCMP to report someone had been shining a green laser at planes that were landing at Kelowna International Airport, including a commercial WestJet flight.

Dergez was eventually arrested later that night after he was found in Vernon's Becker Park, and a year later, he was charged under the Aeronautics Act with engaging in behaviour that endangers the safety or security of an aircraft in flight. A conviction can result in a maximum fine of $100,000 or five years imprisonment.

But bizarrely, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada stayed the two charges against Dergez in February 2023, providing no reason for the stay.

Pilots confront suspect in park

But Dergez still faced a handful of other charges from the same night – including five counts of assault with a weapon, assaulting a police officer and uttering threats – and during Justice Gordon Wilson's ruling on the case Friday, more details about the odd case were disclosed.

One of the planes Dergez allegedly shone a high-powered laser into on the evening in question was a private plane being flown by pilot-in-training Reid Botwood and flight instructor Kim Alaric.

The pair had been notified prior to takeoff that a commercial pilot had been hit a laser previously, but shortly after take-off from the Vernon Regional Airport, Botwood was hit by a laser in his eyes. When they later came in for a landing, they were hit by the laser again, forcing them to abandon their landing. After looping around, they managed to determine the laser was coming from the Turtle Mountain area of Vernon, before they were able to safely land.

The pair called police and a dispatcher told them an officer would meet them at the airport. But when no officer arrived after about 45 minutes, the pair met up with three others and made their way to the Turtle Mountain area to find the culprit. As they approached the area, they again saw the laser hit another plane and they followed it to nearby Becker Park, where they again called police.

At about midnight, they came upon Dergez, who was sitting on a bench at the top of a hill in the park. The group was hit by the high-powered laser beam as they approached.

They verbally confronted Dergez, who then sprayed the group with bear spray and fled on his bicycle.

A short time later, Vernon RCMP officer Const. Carey found Dergez south of the park, in a laneway near 38 Street and 30th Avenue and he recognized Dergez from previous interactions. Dergez was carrying a jerry can of gasoline and as Const. Carey moved in to arrest him, he was splashed with a significant amount of gas. Dergez claimed he hadn't meant to splash the officer, but Const. Carey testified Dergez told him “Let me go or I'll light you on fire.”

Const. Carey wrestled Dergez to the ground and delivered several blows to Dergez's head to subdue him, as he was concerned Dergez would try and reach for a lighter during the arrest. Const. Carey knew Dergez was a methamphetamine user and figured he would have a lighter in his pockets.

Convicted, acquittal

Justice Wilson said a video recording from Const. Carey's cruiser caught the muffled audio “... f***ing light you on fire” during the arrest, which he found corroborated the officer's testimony.

Justice Wilson also ruled that Dergez deliberately splashed the gasoline on Const. Careey, as there were two distinct instances of the gas hitting the officer and the amount of gas on the officer “would not be consistent with incidental spillage.”

As a result, Dergez was convicted of assaulting a police officer with the gas and of uttering threats.

But Justice Wilson acquitted Dergez of the five counts of assault with bear spray from the confrontation in Becker Park, ruling he had deployed the bear spray in self defence.

“I find that Mr. Dergez's use of the bear spray was not excessive and that it was only used defensively, both at the top of the hill and when he was trying to get away,” Justice Wilson said. “This specific interaction was not provoked by Mr. Dergez, even though obviously his actions from earlier in the day precipitated the group's attendance in Becker Park."

Dergez said he'd used methamphetamine earlier that day and believed the RCMP had been surveilling him with drones. He conceded that one of the drones he believed had been surveilling him was in fact Alaric's plane that had been piloted by Botwood.

Pointless, dangerous, ridiculous

While the charges relating to pointing the laser at the planes were stayed by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada without explanation, Justice Wilson had the following to say about Dergez's alleged actions:

“This would undoubtedly be a terrifying experience for any pilot who would be temporarily unable to see ... Mr. Dergez's actions were extremely dangerous and could have caused a very serious accident, serious enough that someone, or indeed numerous people depending on the circumstances, could have been killed. Mr. Dergez's actions were pointless, dangerous, and viewed objectively, completely ridiculous.”

Back in September 2021, YLW airport director Sam Samaddar told Castanet the incident was the third laser-shining incident pilots had dealt with in the previous month.

During trial, Dergez had sought a stay of proceedings for all the charges he faced, claiming his Charter rights had been violated due to the use of force by Const. Carey and through an abuse of process by police during the trial. But Justice Wilson dismissed Dergez's Charter challenges.

In a letter to Castanet from jail back in December 2021, Dergez claimed he had been the victim of assault and police brutality on the night in question.

Having now been convicted on the two charges, the matter will proceed to sentencing later this year. A sentencing date is expected to be set following a March 4 court date.

Dergez remains in custody at Oliver's Okanagan Correctional Centre after he was denied bail last August.