"I NEVER LOOKED INSIDE THE COOLER AND I NEVER ASKED"
KAMLOOPS – The latest witness in a murder trial told the jury Monday afternoon the man charged with second-degree murder was sketchy, anxious and not very talkative when he drove him and a five-foot-long cooler to an unmarked road near the Halston Bridge sometime in July 2003.
Robert Donald Balbar is charged with second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend Heather Hamill. He was arrested in 2007 after telling an undercover RCMP officer he beat Hamill to death with a hammer, mallet and sledgehammer before disposing of her body in a cooler by dumping it in the Thompson River. This is the second week of his trial in Kamloops Supreme Court.
Morris Rugolo gave Balbar a ride in a pickup truck at the request of his friend who said Balbar would pay him $50 to take him and the cooler to the Kamloops Indian Reservation.
“I wanted to make some money,” Rugolo said. “Giving someone a ride was an easy job.”
Rugolo said he borrowed his friend’s truck and met a friend he referred to as “Lips” at the Hasty Market on 8 Street. The two drove to an alleyway off Fortune Drive where Balbar (referred to as Smiley) and his cooler were waiting for them.
“I didn’t really know Smiley. I never really met him before,” he said.
Rugolo said Lips got out of the truck and helped Balbar load the cooler into the bed of the truck before taking off on his bicycle. Rugolo then drove Balbar, seated in the passenger side, over the Halston Bridge.
“He wasn’t really talkative at that point,” Rugolo said. “He seemed a little sketchy. Anxious.”
The pair drove down Kootenay Way before Balbar asked Rugolo if he could take the vehicle himself. Rugolo said Balbar told him he was meeting someone who would be anxious about a stranger accompanying him.
“He said he was going to meet somebody,” Rugolo said.
Rugolo said he stepped out of the vehicle before Balbar turned it around and took off toward the river.
About 20 minutes later, Rugolo said Balbar returned but the cooler was gone.
“I figured he made a deal or something,” Rugolo said. “I never looked inside the cooler and I never asked.”
After Balbar returned, Rugolo said Balbar told him he “wished he had more time.”
“It seemed really odd that he would say that,” Rugolo said. “He was a lot more talkative (when he came back).”
When Rugolo dropped off Balbar he said the accused handed him $13 and told him he would pay the remainder he owed him later.
Earlier in the day, court heard from Corrine Ironside who described herself as Heather Hamill’s best friend.
They once shared an apartment on Oak Road on the North Shore together, but that wasn’t all.
“We were born on the same day, same year, same hospital,” Ironside said.
Ironside said they lived together for just a couple of months before she moved to another apartment in the same building with Balbar, who she calls “Smiley.... his nickname. He’s had it for years.”
She told the court Hamill didn’t have a job but worked as prostitute. She had regular clients, but also worked the streets to supply a drug habit. She used drugs every day, Ironside said. On weekends, the two of them would smoke crack and marijuana.
The only time she didn’t use drugs was when she visited her children, Ironside said.
“She lost so much weight... from her drug use,” Ironside said.
Given Hamill’s lifestyle, Ironside said it “wasn’t unusual for her to not be seen for a few days.”
Ironside said Hamill regularly kept in touch when she went away until July 19, 2003 – the last day Ironside saw Hamill alive before her body was discovered in the Thompson River.
The trial will continue Tuesday morning.
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