A years-long investigation into the cause of death of a Lake Country woman has been deemed inconclusive by the BC Coroners Service.
British Columbia Coroner Lori Moen has released her report into the 2016 death of Arlene Westervelt, who died after falling out of a canoe.
In April, 2019, it was reported that after a lengthy police investigation Lambertus (Bert) Westervelt was formally charged with second degree murder for the alleged homicide death of his wife. In July 2020, however, the charges were stayed.
At the time, Arlene’s family expressed their disapproval of the decision.
“He said she disappeared into the lake and was gone. We don’t believe it. We have never believed that,” said Arlene’s sister, Debbie Hennig.
On June 26, 2016, a canoe carrying the couple flipped, and Arlene disappeared. Both individuals knew how to swim. A nearby boater rescued Lambertus, and Arlene’s body was recovered a day later from Okanagan Lake by RCMP. She was found in 35 feet of water, approximately 100 feet from the shore.
Although criminality was not originally suspected, individuals close to the family reported concerns regarding Arlene and Lambertus’ relationship. A criminal investigation began, and the coroner directed an autopsy to be conducted.
Moen’s coroner report failed to identify one specific cause of death.
An autopsy showed no external injuries other than a small bruise on Arlene’s upper lip. The coroner identified an issue with her heart’s left chamber, which may have been caused by high blood pressure or undiagnosed heart disease. This could have increased the risk of heart failure.
However, one specific cause of death could not be identified. Drowning could not be confirmed or ruled out.
“After careful consideration of all available evidence, given the competing possibilities with respect to Ms. Westervelt’s death and the lack of compelling corroborative evidence to support one possible cause of death over the others, the cause of Ms. Westervelt’s death remains undetermined.
“I, therefore, classify the manner of death as undetermined and make no recommendations.”
-With files from Michael Rodriguez
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that in July 2020, the charges against Lambertus Westervelt were dropped. This is incorrect. The charges were stayed.
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