BURNABY, B.C. – Outside a busy Starbucks in Metro Vancouver, a black-and-white photograph of a young man in a suit and tie sits nestled among flowers, handwritten cards and a bright red ribbon that reads, “Michael.”
He has been identified in media reports as Michael Page-Vincelli, a 22-year-old who reportedly died after a shocking altercation inside the coffee shop that a witness says left him unconscious and bleeding on the floor.
The tragedy happened a month ago but the public only heard about it for the first time from the media this week. Police did not issue any statements and no charges have been laid.
A civil rights group is raising questions about why police kept the man’s death under wraps. And while media reports have portrayed the encounter as having broken out over a tossed cigarette butt, a witness who explained what he saw adds more details to the story.
“Michael, I love you,” reads a note signed “Mom,” placed on the makeshift memorial outside the store.
“I’m going to miss you. Wish you could stay. My boy. My sunshine. Love you always and forever.”
The incident took place on July 12 inside a Starbucks in Burnaby. Michael Zimeras, 73, was sitting outside when he saw a young man emerge from the coffee shop. The man lit a cigarette and began to pace back and forth, yanking his T-shirt up and down, mumbling and cursing about the government and not being allowed to smoke inside, said Zimeras.
“He was looking very agitated,” he said.
Some time later, the young man approached a woman who was sitting in a parked car outside a nearby bank, said Zimeras, and began yelling that he didn’t want to see her anymore. She tossed a cigarette onto the ground and the young man picked it up and threw it at her through an open window, Zimeras said.
The young man left and went back to the Starbucks, and another man emerged from the bank, said Zimeras. He said the woman told the man what had happened and the man said, “Let’s go and get him.”
The man went into the Starbucks while the woman stood outside holding the door, said Zimeras. After about a minute, the man emerged and they drove away.
Zimeras rushed inside the coffee shop and saw the young man crumpled and unconscious on the floor, with blood pouring from his mouth, nose and ears. Zimeras said he heard from a customer that the man had punched him in the face and he had hit his head on a counter.
“I knew him, when I saw him down on the ground that he was dead, the way he was trying to breathe,” said Zimeras. “I said, ‘He won’t make it. He’s dead.’ “
The Canadian Press has not spoken to anyone who witnessed the alleged punch.
Steve Myers was sitting inside the Starbucks when he heard a loud bang. He thought someone had jumped over a table and knocked over a chair, but when he looked up, he saw a man laying on the floor. An employee called 911 while people tried to do CPR, he said.
Myers said other customers told him that a man had walked in, punched the young man from behind and he hit his head on a counter.
A note hanging on the door of the family home of Page-Vincelli asks for privacy, and a woman who answered the phone declined comment. An obituary describes the “extreme sorrow” felt by his family, and thanks the nurses and staff at a hospital for their “loving care.”
Police have released few details about their investigation and refused to confirm details of the case reported by media outlets based on interviews with witnesses.
Cpl. Meghan Foster of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said there was an altercation on July 12 at a business on the 6500 block of Hastings Street in Burnaby, the same block where the Starbucks is located.
Foster said a man was transported to hospital, where he died a few days later. Officers don’t believe there is any risk to the public, she said.
“We’re advancing the investigation and pursuing leads diligently … and no names will be released until charge approval will be obtained,” she said. “Right now we’re in a position where we can’t say anything more than that.”
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said there may have been legitimate investigative reasons why the police did not tell the public about the incident. But they should be more clear and transparent about what their standards are for proactively releasing information, he said.
“As the public and the media, we’re unable to form a judgment about how effective our police are being if we don’t know, in general, about the kinds of crimes they’re investigating,” he said.
Starbucks Canada issued a statement that says it is supporting the RCMP in their investigation.
“We were shocked and saddened by this assault, and our thoughts are with his family,” the statement said.
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.