It’s been one year since 20-year-old Rhys Coppens died outside the Northern Hotel on Second Avenue, and police and Rhys’s family are still hoping a witness will come forward to shed light on what happened to him.
Rhys was found unconscious in the alleyway next to the Fernie bar at 2:25 a.m. March 21, 2010.
He was visiting Fernie on a snowboarding trip with his older brother, Jacques, and his best friend.
“We have to live with what happened every day,” his mother Marlene Coppens told The Free Press from her home in Edmonton.
“There has to have been a witness out there that knows what happened. We are not looking for vengeance, we just want an answer.”
The RCMP said Rhys was taken by ambulance to the Elk Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The RCMP carried out extensive interviews with people that had been in the bar that night, but were never able to find out what had happened to Rhys in the final minutes of his life. Foul play was never suspected.
“It’s important for us to piece everything together, and certainly for the family as well,” said Sgt. Dave Dubnyk of the Elk Valley RCMP.
“This was a fine young man, just in Fernie to have a good time. It’s really tragic.
“We hope somebody might morally feel like coming forward, one year on, to help us and Rhys’s family figure out how he came to be in the alleyway. He had no broken bones that would indicate a fall.
“Our criminal investigation has been concluded, so this is really just to help everyone close the book on the case.”
Dubnyk said that, although there was some alcohol in Rhys’s blood, they do not believe this played a part in his death.
“He died of positional asphyxia, basically suffocation,” said Dubnyk. “Somehow he came to be lying in a position that meant he was unable to breathe.”
Marlene Coppens said she is still coming to terms with losing the youngest of her four children, and hopes that finding out what happened to him will make it easier for the family to have some closure.
The medical examiner confirmed his injuries weren’t consistent with falling off a roof or being involved in a fight, she said. No illegal or legal drugs were found in his system either.
“We know for a fact he did not fall from the roof of that building. We are thinking somebody did see something or knows something,” said Marlene.
Rhys was known for his athletic ability. He had played one season with the University of Alberta Golden Bears football team and had recently signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Calgary Dinos.
He also excelled at hockey and soccer, having travelled to England twice to play with the Vimy Ridge soccer academy.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Elk Valley RCMP at 250-425-6233.