The life and violent death of a beloved son, ensnared by drugs

Betty Jansen remembers the horrific phone call she received around midnight on Jan. 14, 2015.

“Your son’s been stabbed in the leg and, yeah, he’s not going to make it,” an RCMP officer told her. “And I was just, like, ‘What? It’s a stab to the leg.’ You don’t think serious.”

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But it was.

Kyle Jansen died before his mother, who lives in Burnaby, or his spouse, Anne Marie Livingston, who was on a training course in Saskatchewan, could get to the hospital.

“I was kind of in shock at first because it was so unbelievable,” said Betty, who cried all the way to Victoria on the ferry the next day. “Shock and disbelief.”

Daniel Thomas Phelps was arrested in the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 2015, and charged with manslaughter in connection with Jansen’s death.

On Thursday, a B.C. Supreme Court jury convicted him of the crime, finding he stabbed Jansen and caused his death.

Betty, who had taken an unpaid leave of absence from her job in guest services at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, didn’t miss a minute of the six-week trial.

She sat in court, usually by herself, as close to the front of the public gallery as the sheriffs let her. She wears Kyle’s ashes in a locket around her neck. On her upper left arm is a tattoo with the name Kyle between a dolphin and a wave. Her older son Justin, 33, has an identical tattoo. It reminds them of the trip Kyle took to Cuba a few years ago.

“He swam with the dolphins and loved it. So at his service, we said he was swimming with the dolphins,” said Betty, her eyes filling with tears.

She doesn’t like to think of the last traumatic moments of her son’s life, when Kyle was in intense pain, bleeding heavily, asking strangers if he was going to die.

But she does want to thank everybody who tried to help Kyle — the civilians, the police, the paramedics and firefighters, the doctors and the nurses.

“When we lose a loved one, it will always be a loss. But this was so unnecessary.”

Kyle was born in Sparwood on June 10, 1984, and grew up in Powell River.

“As a kid, he loved nature. He had an infectious smile. He worked hard at everything and he was kind,” said his mother.

Kyle’s first love was frogs. He knew every frog, every reptile. He had a book on snakes and even better, a real pet snake, a ball python named Crush.

“He amazed his teachers. It was something that he loved. He had so much knowledge on it.”

Kyle didn’t sit in front of the TV and watch cartoons like other children did. He watched nature documentaries or historical documentaries about war.

He was a pretty typical teenager — not a saint, but not a bad kid either, said his mother.

She remembers a happy time in their lives when 15-year-old Kyle was on an all-star soccer team in Powell River that went on to the provincial championships. Betty went with the team to the tournament in Richmond.

“It was awesome because I actually got to be a part of that. And they won.”

Kyle’s father, David, was more involved in Justin’s hockey games. So Betty had soccer Saturdays with Kyle.

“I was the soccer mom. We’d come home and we’d have our little ritual. His favourite soup was Campbell’s hamburger soup. So I always made sure I had a tin of that and I’d draw him a nice bath and cook him his favourite soup.”

So how did Kyle go from a nature-loving, frog catching, skateboarding, soccer-playing teenager to a heroin addict with a criminal record, who sold heroin and cocaine during the last six months of his life?

Betty doesn’t really have the answer. She thinks small-town life in Powell River may have had something to do with it.

“You dabble in stuff. I know he smoked a little pot here and there. He drank. He did the obvious teenage things. Did I know he had progressed to the harsher stuff? No I didn’t. When I found out, I was in shock.”

When Kyle was about 20, his world fell apart, said Betty. He had moved to Vancouver to be with his high school girlfriend, who was studying at Simon Fraser University. Kyle was working various construction jobs but couldn’t keep it together.

“He was very strung out on drugs. From then on, it was a back and forth battle. He did clean up his act several times. Things were going well for him sometimes, but unfortunately, it was a back and forth struggle.”

Betty believes that people struggling with addiction can’t get help until they are really down and out. And by that time, it’s really hard for them to actually go and get help.

“They can sign themselves in and out of places really easily.”

A couple of years ago, Kyle ended up on her doorstep. He went to detox and treatment. But it was only a six-week program and just a matter of time before he went back to the drugs lifestyle, she said.

Livingston, who lived with Kyle for about eight years, testified during the trial. She told the jury Kyle was finishing his carpentry apprenticeship but had been repeatedly laid off and was only able to find temporary work. “Out of desperation, he started dealing drugs.”

Kyle was addicted to heroin and involved in a methadone treatment program. He had taken both the day he died. His criminal record shows he was on bail for drug trafficking at the time of his death.

“People are going to think he’s a horrible person, but people don’t realize when you’re struggling with something like that, you will do what you have to do,” said Betty.

She believes her son was beaten up and robbed of his drugs. “He was definitely roughed up, because I saw him in his coffin and his face was beat up.”

After Phelps has been sentenced, she and other family members plan to drive to Powell River and scatter Kyle’s ashes in some of his favourite places — his favourite frogging lake and the ocean.

“Kyle knew a lot of people. He was a loved person. You never know until someone’s gone how much they touched everybody else,” Betty sighed. “At 30, he still could have turned his life around. Anything could have happened.”

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