July 17th, 2024

Attempted escape from police and other charges land man in jail

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on October 12, 2023.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

It’s a daring escape attempt; up on a roof, surrounded by police, no where to go.

The suspect looks over the edge and sees an awning below. He jumps, just like in the movies, but instead of bouncing off and landing safely on the sidewalk, he tears through the awning and smashes the lights underneath.

“This is a very bizarre incident,” Crown Prosecutor Michael Fox said in Lethbridge court of justice, where Scott Anthony Varhaug pleaded guilty recently to several criminal charges, including assault with a weapon and mischief.

The incident arose after Varhaug’s dog became ill last month and had to be taken to a veterinary clinic.

“Mr. Varhaug was in a very agitated state,” Fox explained. “At some point he found himself up on the roof of the old York Hotel.”

A woman who resides in the building heard someone on the roof and went outside to investigate. She saw Varhaug and told him to get down, but he simply yelled back, picked up a brick, and threw it, narrowly missing her.

Three police officers responded, went on the roof and tried to talk the “extremely agitated, aggressive, non-compliant” man off the roof. They were partially successful and Varhaug climbed down to a lower roof. Instead of surrendering, however, Varhaug made his daring escape attempt.

“I believe that Mr. Vielle has watched too many movies,” Fox said, adding he’s not sure if Varhaug intended to land on the business awning, or if he even knew it was there.

Varhaug also pleaded guilty to charges of breaching probation, assaulting a peace officer, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, resisting a peace officer, and four additional charges of mischief causing damage.

On Sept. 23, the day before the roof incident, Varhaug had been residing in a home, the owner of which became concerned about Varhaug’s substance use and suspected he was trying to get her son to smoke meth with him. She asked Varhaug to leave, which resulted in an altercation in which Varhaug threw a rock through her window.

On Sept. 25, Varhaug returned to the vet clinic to see his dog, but because of his behaviour he was asked to leave. He left, but instead of walking away, he picked up a rock and began hitting the window to get the attention of employees inside. He ultimately smashed the window, causing a “head-sized” hole.

After police arrived, Varhaug, who was perched on a nearby fence, began yelling at the officers. An officer told Varhaug he was under arrest, but Varhaug said they would have to taser him, and took off.

Barely a week later, a woman was driving past her business on 13 Street North when she noticed a window had been broken. A review of the surveillance video showed Varhaug and another man having an “animated” discussion, during which Varhaug kicked the window. Both men left shortly afterward.

On another occasion an agitated Varhaug returned to the vet clinic on 6 Avenue South, where staff locked the door to prevent him from entering, and locked themselves in another room and called police. Varhaug threw a butane bottle at the same window he had previously broken, and which still had cardboard taped over it.

“He decided to make a new hole,” Fox said.

Before Varhaug even arrived at the clinic, police had received calls about a man walking along the street waving a knife and yelling randomly to no one in particular. A police officer arrived but when he attempted to get out of his vehicle, Varhaug ran toward him and kicked the door shut, then fled. He didn’t get far before he was apprehended.

The “knife” witnesses saw turned out to be a saw blade with a foam handle.

Fox pointed out Varhaug has 40 criminal convictions between 2004 and 2014, mostly for property offences and breaching court orders. Then there’s nothing on his record until 2020 and again in May 2022 when he was convicted for assault causing bodily harm.

Fox said that in his view, Mr. Varhaug recently developed a substance abuse issue which affects his interactions with the general public and the police, and places him in a heightened state of agitation, particularly in relation to the circumstances surrounding his dog.

Lethbridge lawyer Miranda Hlady pointed out Varhaug’s dog contracted the Parvo virus but he couldn’t afford to pay for treatment and had to surrender the animal.

“He was under the impression that he would be allowed to receive updates about the dog and whether or not the dog survived, and he became frustrated when the clinic was not willing to provide him with any information about the well-being of the dog,” Hlady said. “It was a very frustrating time for him…and he does regret his actions.”

Varhaug was sentenced to a total of 60 days in jail, minus nine days for time he already spent in remand custody. He will be on probation for one year following his release, and he must submit a sample of his DNA for the National DNA Data Bank. He must also be assessed and take counselling for substance abuse and anger management.

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