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Beloved Beetle burned, arson suspected

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 15, 2012

Michael Callas woke up at about 1:30 Wednesday morning to the sound of the family Volkswagen Beetle's horn honking into the night.

NNSL photo/graphic

This picture was taken Tuesday night before the torched Beetle was towed away. - photo courtesy of Brendan Callas

What he, his two brothers and his mother discovered was the sight of their cheery yellow family Bug engulfed in flames in the backyard alleyway on Matonabee Street where it had been parked.

The fire must have fried the electrical wiring in the vehicle, triggering the horn, said Michael's older brother Brendan. If the horn hadn't gone off, things could have been much worse, he said.

Brendan, his two brothers Michael and Aaron, and their mother Judy Murdock stood outside helplessly watching the vehicle burn for about five minutes until the RCMP and fire department responded.

"Thank heavens no one was hurt. In seconds, the trees could have caught and the house could have caught," said Murdock, who owns the Bug, although the whole family used it.

"We were worried because the blaze was quite tall. Including the smoke, it was going well above the telephone poles in our back alley," said Brendan.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said the cause of the fire is being viewed as suspicious and is still under investigation. Brendan said an RCMP officer at the scene told him the police are attributing it to mischief and the fact that it probably is arson and not accidental.

RCMP Const. Kathy Law confirmed police consider the fire suspicious but had no suspects as of yesterday.

"I was upset for those first five minutes, but then I just felt really sorry for the people who get kicks out of this stuff," said Brendan.

"It's totally senseless and they're just not thinking about the people it affects."

The 1972 Bug was 40 years old this year, and even after sitting out all winter, it would start on the first or second try every summer. The family was planning on jestingly celebrating its birthday. Just last week they were joking about making a Bug-shaped cake, said Brendan.

On Tuesday, however, the Bug was just a shell of charcoal metal, with a bit of its original bright yellow finish peeking through.

"It was the car I learned how to drive on, the car I took to high school grad. All three of us have driven it ... It was a car that meant a lot to all of us," said Brendan.

He fondly remembers driving the car down the streets in town and seeing everyone on the sidewalks lightly punch the person next to them and mouth the words "punch Buggy."

"(It) gave me a smile every time."

Although the family is still shaken and saddened by the event, they have a hopeful wish that those who might have caused the fire will realize their actions affect others.

"I feel sorry for them because I don't know what's going on in their life either. I know there's a lot of youth in this town that struggle with not having a strong presence at home, not getting proper food or whatever. It's a thing I've learned through working in schools recently. You never know what's going on in their life. I just kind of feel for them more than everything," said Brendan.

Murdock said she would like to find who caused the fire and speak with them, if only for them to realize there are consequences for their actions and that the car was of sentimental value to the family.

"If they can just understand the consequences of the impact or the emotional impact of their actions, maybe you can make a difference," she said.

"This is something that as a society or a community that we have to deal with, and make this a better, safer place."

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