Man in fatal fall from Johnson Street Bridge owner of Nanaimo business

The man who fatally fell from the Johnson Street Bridge, Wayne Aebig, was a Nanaimo business owner, a grandfather and an avid outdoorsman who had just celebrated his birthday the week before.

Aebig, who co-owned Aebig Painting and Fine Finishing with his brother Shane, was in Victoria Friday night to watch a Victoria Royals hockey game followed by drinks with friends, said Carol Hamilton, former mayor of Colwood who is related to Aebig.

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“He’s a much loved father, brother, son, grandpa, uncle and cousin,” Hamilton said Monday.

About 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Aebig climbed a railing on the Johnson Street Bridge and lost his balance, plunging into the frigid water below. Witnesses called out to him and tried to direct him to the shoreline, but he did not make it. Police believe alcohol was a factor.

His body was recovered by a Canadian Coast Guard vessel.

Hamilton was reading posts on Facebook about the bridge tragedy before she knew the victim was her relative. On Saturday, Shane called to break the news.

Hamilton said she’s in shock at how “a singular moment of indiscretion or bravado” can end a man’s life.

Aebig celebrated his birthday on Dec. 7 and had married in September.

“Life was great for him, life was wonderful,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton speculated that Aebig might have felt emboldened on the bridge because he’s not afraid of heights, spending most of his career balancing on scaffolds during painting jobs.

Aebig leaves behind an adult daughter, Jessica, and a granddaughter, Sophie. He adored both of them, Hamilton said.

Aebig loved the outdoors and was an avid fisherman. “As an adult, his best time was out on his boat, fishing and camping.”

Aebig’s father was Hamilton’s cousin. Aebig and his two youngest brothers, Shane and Raymond, were just toddlers when their mother died in a car crash in the 1970s. Hamilton spent her late teenage years babysitting the three boys, whom she loved like sons.

“They grew up without their mother,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the three boys “kept me on my toes.”

Their father, Wayne Aebig Sr., twice remarried and the family grew to include another son and daughter.

Wayne Aebig Sr. ran the painting company, started by his father Martin in 1947 and eventually passed the business on to Wayne and Shane. Wayne Aebig Sr. died in 2012 of cancer.

In addition to losing their mother, Wayne Aebig’s family has endured many tragedies. Aebig’s cousins, Trevor and Doug Decock, were among the five people killed in a float plane crash off Quadra Island on Feb. 28, 2005.

Aebig’s 15-year-old niece, Ashley Aebig, was killed in July 2007 in a crash near Nanaimo. She was the passenger in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. The Aebig family also mourned alongside Hamilton and her husband, Arnie, when their 19-year-old son, Kenneth, was killed by an impaired driver in 2003.

The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating Aebig’s death.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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