James Wilson ran into his friend, Robbie Minler, on Saturday night in Abbotsford just as Minler was getting ready to catch a ride with another buddy into Langley.
Several hours later, Wilson was stunned to hear that Minler died after fleeing from police who had pulled him over for suspicion of impaired driving. Minler, 21, crashed into a power pole and then into the back of a building on George Ferguson Way, just east of McCallum Road.
He died on scene, the lone occupant in the vehicle. Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said Minler was under suspension for driving. He was given a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition on Jan. 29 in Abbotsford after failing a roadside breath test.
Monday morning, Wilson was at the crash site, which had been turned into a memorial with about 25 floral bouquets, burning candles and a large white cross sporting the words “Robbie Minler, #33 Forever Young.”
On the wall was a photo of Minler sporting a Rick Hansen Hurricanes football uniform, number 33. He had been the wide receiver and defensive back for the team during his high school years.
A white poster board and the wall of the building were scribbled with messages in purple felt pen.
“He was an amazing person. He would always stand out. The hardest part about seeing him gone is you’ll never see his smile again,” Wilson said.
He described Minler, whom he met about two years ago, as “hyper, always smiling, energetic” and a “really smart kid who would be on his computer all day.”
“He could have done anything,” Wilson added.
Minler lived with two roommates in an apartment not far from the crash scene, he added.
He had previously been an assistant auctioneer with Madison’s Auctions and Appraisals in Abbotsford, but had begun working in December at Abbsry New and Used Tires.
Wade Larson, president and founder of Abbsry, said he hired Minler based on a recommendation from a friend.
“He was actually a very intelligent young person,” he said.
Minler worked in inventory control and development, and Larson said his energetic, friendly nature and innovative mind made him a “natural salesperson.”
“He had extreme potential … He was going to be going places.”
Larson said in his short time at Abbsry, Minler made several close friends. He was a “genuinely nice person” who often helped others without wanting anything in return, he said.
“It’s a fantastic person’s life cut short,” Larson said of Minler’s death.
MacDonald said Abbotsford Police were alerted by freeway police at about midnight on Saturday that a motorist had been reported driving erratically and had hit a barrier along Highway 1 near the 264 Street exit.
The driver was headed east, and police anticipated he was destined for Abbotsford.
MacDonald said an Abbotsford police officer then headed south along Clearbrook Road, towards the freeway. He noticed a car that was headed in the opposite direction did not have its lights on and was speeding.
The officer turned around and followed the Honda Civic, which matched the description and licence plate provided by the RCMP’s Fraser Valley Traffic Services. The officer had his emergency lights flashing, and the driver pulled into a church parking lot at the corner of Gladwin and Maclure roads.
MacDonald said the officer then called for back-up, and did not approach the vehicle nor talk to the Honda driver while he waited.
As the second patrol car pulled up, the driver fled and headed south on Gladwin Road and then east on George Ferguson Way. MacDonald said the officers on scene were instructed not to pursue the vehicle.
He said another driver, also headed east on George Ferguson, reported that the Honda Civic passed him at a high speed. MacDonald said that driver was the first on the scene after the vehicle crashed, hitting a light post, power pole and building on the south side of the road.
The incident is still under investigation.
Online provincial court records show that Minler pleaded guilty in July 2009 of driving while his licence was suspended and was given a one-year driving prohibition.
He was also given a 12-month conditional sentence in September 2009 for trafficking in a controlled substance, and was charged with breaching that sentence in July 2010.