Violence preceded man's death under fleeing truck, judge told

The violent aftermath of a Merritt domestic dispute that left a man dead in the gravel and his friend charged with aggravated assault was put before a judge Tuesday.

Ryan Chypyha is charged with four counts of assault, related to his role in a November 2007 skirmish that killed Nathan Johnson and resulted in three other people being bloodied and wounded.

Chypyha and Johnson were close friends. They attacked Jeff Foote and Brad Roste as the two arrived with Tamara Smith - Chypyha's girlfriend -to retrieve her duffle bag, the B.C. Supreme Court judge heard.

Smith had called Foote for help because she had a fight with Chypyha the evening before.

Foote told the court he was nervous when he arrived at Chypyha's trailer, as he knew Chypyha had a reputation for violence. Still, he hoped he could verbally convince the man to hand over Smith's duffle bag and let her go.

Events went bad quickly, however, as Chypyha and Johnson rushed out of the trailer intent on violence, Foote testified.

They first released two aggressive dogs, which attacked Roste. Chypyha and Johnson, armed with a shovel and a sword, came out behind the dogs and started swinging, the judge was told.

Foote said he did what he could to fend off Chypyha's shovel blows.

"I had my arms up, trying to block his shovel," Foote told the judge. "I'm backing up, he's swinging (the shovel) to the extent of his abilities.

"I felt like my arm was broken, I thought it was for sure," Foote testified.

Foote said he also watched Johnson smack Smith in the head with a piece of wood, knocking her down and leaving her bleeding profusely.

Foote dragged Smith to the truck and they all tried to leave the scene. Foote said Johnson was smashing at the windows with his club.

"I yanked the wheel as hard as I could to the left and floored it," Foote said.

"You wanted to get out of there," said prosecutor Neil Flanagan.

"Yes. I was in shock. I was bleeding. I was hurt. I was in a bad way. I was just terrified," Foote said.

As he floored it to escape, Foote struck Johnson with his truck, although he told police later he didn't know he'd hit him hard.

In fact, the blow drove Johnson's ribs into his heart and lungs and the man died within minutes on the gravel driveway. Foote drove away and didn't stop, nor did he call 911.

Foote was initially arrested for manslaughter, but those charges were reduced to leaving the scene of an accident. In July 2008, he pleaded guilty to failing to report an accident, a Motor Vehicle Act offence, and was fined $500.

Chypyha, meanwhile, took off from Merritt. He was not seen for more than two years, but was finally located by authorities in Saskatchewan. He has been in custody since his arrest almost a year ago, waiting trial on these assault charges.

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Don Campbell suggested Foote came to Chypyha's trailer with more than talking in mind. He asked the man if he was armed with a club and a knife. He also suggested Foote cut Chypyha as they fought.

"That's not possible," Foote said, denying he armed himself with anything or did anything but defend himself.

Chypyha's trial, which got underway in B.C. Supreme Court Monday, is scheduled to last five days.

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