By Rosie Mullaley and Tara Bradbury
As police were at the scene where Philip Steven Smith’s body was found Wednesday, the family of his ex-girlfriend, Cortney Lake, offered their condolences to his loved ones.
“We understand too well the sudden and tragic loss of a loved one,” Lake’s family wrote in an emailed statement to the media.
“We acknowledge that no one has been charged in connection with Cortney’s disappearance and murder. However, if Philip Smith was in fact involved, we hope he left information that will lead us to her.”
Lake, 24, disappeared June 7 and police believe she was murdered. The last time she was seen was when she was getting into Smith’s pickup around 7:30 p.m. that night near her Mount Pearl home.
The Telegram has learned that Smith, 25, died by suicide. Sources say Smith called his family Tuesday night and said he was going to kill himself. The family then reported him missing.
An RCMP police dog found his body at 3 a.m. in the woods.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there was still a heavy police presence in the area of Bellevue Beach, about an hour west of St. John’s, along with members of the Rovers Search and Rescue and the Avalon North Wolverines Search and Rescue. Searchers continued to comb a wooded area next door to a cabin belonging to Smith’s father.
Representatives of the Rovers and RNC Const. Colin Deacy would not release any information, only to say they were doing an evidence line search. In all, close to 60 people from various search and rescue groups were gathered behind the cabin to begin the two- or three-kilometre search to the Trans-Canada Highway.
Residents in the area were shocked to hear the news.
“Never knew a thing until I heard it on the news,” a lady working at a convenience store said.
Down the road at the gas station, the clerk and a customer both said they knew Melvin Smith to be a nice man. They knew little about his son.
“But this is crazy,” the woman said. “Something like this never happens here.”
Smith had reportedly been staying at his family’s cabin.
He had been scheduled to appear in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court this Friday, where the Crown was set to appeal one of the conditions of his release from jail.
As part of a sentence Smith received last June — the same day Lake went missing — he was given a one-year driving ban with an exception for work purposes. Crown prosecutor Jude Hall was appealing that condition, arguing that such an exception isn’t legal.
Smith didn’t show up in court when the matter was called last month, despite having been served with a summons while behind bars at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. A second summons was issued for Friday’s proceedings.
Smith was also a no-show in provincial court on two other dates, for a peace bond hearing requested by Cortney’s mother, Lisa Lake. Lisa had been looking to have a peace bond against Smith, banning him from contacting her, but sheriff’s officers (who aren’t tasked with investigating a person’s whereabouts) had trouble locating him. He was served with the documents within the past few days.
The day Cortney Lake disappeared, Smith was in provincial court in St. John’s, where he pleaded guilty to charges of assaulting her, distributing nude photos of her and breaching orders to stay away from her and her family. He was also charged with dangerous driving and failing to stop for police, in connection with an incident that took place a month earlier.
Smith’s sister had called police to say she was worried about Smith and thought he was in his truck, parked near the airport. Officers located him there, but he drove away as they approached. After a short chase, police lost the truck, but later located him sitting in it, parked off Peacekeepers’ Way in Conception Bay South. He was attempting to harm himself and officers took him to hospital.
Smith, who had no previous criminal record, pleaded guilty to all his charges June 7 and was sentenced to two days’ time served, probation and an order that he not contact Lake or her family. That’s when he was handed the driving ban.
The Crown prosecutor at that time told the court Smith was going through some sort of mental-health crisis.
On Aug. 9 he was back in court, where he pleaded guilty to breaching a number of court orders, including that he stay away from Lake and her family. He acknowledged picking Lake up in his truck on the evening she disappeared.
Smith made a plea bargain for 30 days in jail with 24 left to serve, but was released on good behaviour 16 days later.
Police have never publicly connected Smith with Lake’s disappearance, though they did seize his truck, which matched the description of the truck Lake was getting into when she was last seen. Police later returned the truck to Smith, who eventually sold it.
In their emailed statement Wednesday, Lake’s family pleaded once again for information about Lake’s whereabouts.
“Our family needs to honour Cortney with the dignity of a proper goodbye,” they said.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact the RNC at 729-8000 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS.