British Columbia

Lone northern Ontario teen gas attendant wary as paranoia grows over fugitives on the run

Pumping gas on a lonely stretch of the TransCanada in northern Ontario is unnerving these days, as possible sightings of two fugitives are investigated by police.

'I hope I don't see them,' said Riley Gravel, 14, during a lone shift at his family gas station

Teen-eye-view: Riley Gravel, 14, keeps a close eye on who is gassing up these days at his family's small gas station in northern Ontario. (Riley Gravel)

Riley Gravel, 14, is on his own running his parents' small gas station in northern Ontario near Kapuskasing.

Customers who stop for gas warn Gravel to be careful. He has seen a lot of police cruisers pass by of late. 

He is keeping a sharp eye out for two fugitives believed to be on the run. The last confirmed sighting of the pair was July 22 in Gillam, Man. On Wednesday, two unconfirmed sightings were reported by Ontario police. One was near a construction site in Kapuskasing.

That's fuelled paranoia in northern Ontario, with two B.C. fugitives still on the run and Manitoba leads fizzling.

Dozens of new potential sightings in Ontario

Ontario Provincial Police say they've created a team to sift through dozens of recent potential sightings spanning highways 17 and 11 in different parts of the province. OPP Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne says the lack of a clear focus for the manhunt is setting off people's paranoia.

"The fear has spread. It gives people a heightened sense of everybody's personal safety. You don't know where they are," said Dionne in an interview Thursday with CBC.

The 10-day old manhunt for Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, has spanned the country. The Port Alberni pair are suspects in three roadside killings in northern B.C. Highway 11 is one of the few routes heading south from Manitoba into Ontario.

Attendants at the lonely gas stations along northern Ontario highways are on the lookout for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, the two B.C. fugitives who are suspects in three roadside killings in northern B.C. (Riley Gravel)

When Gravel heard of sightings — unconfirmed albeit — in northern Ontario, he said it was unnerving.

"I started getting a bit scared I guess. When I heard Wednesday they were [possibly] near Kapuskasing, I said I gotta work tomorrow. Hope I don't see them."

He's not alone.  Other Kapuskasing gas station attendants echoed Gravel's fears. His dad did not want his son's photo used for safety reasons. He's anxious about the fugitives that the police have warned could be desperate and dangerous.

"I don't like it at all," said Eric Gravel, Riley's father, who says he is uneasy, whether sightings are confirmed or not.

There are many small businesses near the station. The teen says he knows all the people who work near him, and they keep watch and stay in close touch. 

"My son is alone at some points. There's always people around, but sometimes he's alone. I've been thinking about that since they fled. The main highway goes right by my place and my gas station. A couple of times a year, we get people like that that just stop for gas and flee the scene."

Riley Gravel often works the pumps alone at the family's small gas station near Kapuskasing, Ont. (Riley Gravel)

On Thursday, OPP confirmed two reports of possible sightings, one of a vehicle driven through a construction site in Kapuskasing, the other much further south near Lake Huron in a town called Iron Bridge.

Schmegelsky and McLeod are charged with second degree murder in the killing of 64-year-old Leonard Dyck whose body was found July 19  off Highway 37 south of Dease Lake, B.C. They are also suspects in the shooting deaths of American Chynna Deese and Australian Lucas Fowler, a couple found beside the highway on July 15, near Liard Hot Springs,

In a few days, Schmegelsky will turn 19. Despite no more video sightings of him or McLeod, their names cast a shadow of fear.

Nothing confirmed

Kapuskasing Mayor David Plourde says even his wife called him when he was in Toronto last week, before any sightings, predicting the Port Alberni pair would come through their 8,600-person town.

Trans-Canada Highway 11 is the main route through for drivers heading from Manitoba to Ontario.

"If they are going to come into Ontario — certainly it could be through Highway 11," Plourde said.

"We know everybody around here. So I wouldn't doubt if somebody suspicious came through we would notice," said Plourde. " When I see somebody come in from out of town — I know they are from out of town."

Plourde knows Gravel, as he knows most people in town. He's gassed up at the station along the lonely stretch of Highway 11.

"We've all had summer jobs," said Plourde, when asked if he is confident the teen is safe on the job. He says police have given him no indication there is danger. It's business as usual for now.

"It's not for me to say, but we are all vulnerable to a certain extent."

Back at the pumps, the 14-year-old gas station attendant keeps a watch on the news — and customers. 

The gas station is on a lonely stretch of the Trans Canada highway near Kapuskasing, Ont. (Google maps)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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