Skip to content

Court hears of off-duty officer’s encounter with Metchosin inmates, and their arrest

James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage charged with killing 60-year-old Metchosin man
Two inmates who escaped William Head prison in Metchosin were caught after commenting on the size of Lewis the Great Dane. He was being walked by John Ferguson, who was an off-duty officer at the time. (Black Press Media file photo)

John Ferguson started his day like any other on July 9, 2019. At the time he was an officer with the Vancouver Island Major Crimes Unit, and he checked a “be on the lookout” briefing that’s sent out each morning and summarizes high-profile events like wanted or missing people.

On that morning, the briefing included photos of James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage and information on their flight from William Head prison.

Those men are charged with the first-degree murder of Metchosin man Martin Payne.

Ferguson then went about his day until his normal nightly routine, taking his 150-pound Great Dane, Lewis, for a walk to a small beach tucked along the shore between Esquimalt and Victoria. It was just after 8 p.m. when the off-duty officer walked Lewis up a small set of stairs from the beach and saw the two men whose photos were plastered on the morning BOLO report.

“Mr. Busch said ‘woah, big dog’ and Mr. Armitage said ‘yeah, great dog,’ to which I replied ‘yeah, he’s a big baby,’” Ferguson testified in the murder trial on Wednesday.

He immediately recognized Busch before turning his attention to a hooded Armitage and believed they were the escapees. After the men rounded the corner on the boardwalk, Ferguson reported the sighting to 911. He then carefully followed the men from a distance to avoid them spotting him and potentially fleeing or splitting up.

After several 911 calls dropped, Ferguson relocated the pair across a small inlet, near a waterfront restaurant in the marina, and updated the E-Comm call takers.

The court on Tuesday watched police-obtained security footage from the Victoria International Marina, which showed a number of officers approach Busch and Armitage around 8:17 p.m. and arrest them on the walkway.

The jury saw more footage of the two escapees’ travels throughout that day. An Oak Bay home’s security cam showed two men, wearing clothing that matched police descriptions of the inmates, walking past the residence around midday. The same video showed a red Ford F-150 pickup truck driving along Woodburn Avenue, where Payne’s matching truck was abandoned.

Video also captured two men walking across the Johnson Street bridge toward Esquimalt later in the afternoon.

Crown lawyer Sofia Bakken on Tuesday told the court that the inmates had items belonging to Payne when they were arrested.

One of Payne’s daughters told police a Canucks ball cap and a backpack Busch was wearing were her father’s, while Armitage was wearing hiking boots and a blue Mt. Washington hoodie that belonged to the 60-year-old. The daughter also provided police with a photo of her father wearing the hoodie.

Another man told police a black Helly Hansen jacket Busch was wearing was his, and that the coat was missing after the man’s truck was stolen, Bakken said.

A dark green backpack filled with camera equipment was found on a trail near Saghalie Road, about 350 metres from where the inmates were arrested. An empty camera box was found in Payne’s truck, while Armitage’s fingerprints were found on the corresponding camera itself. The man who had his truck stolen said the backpack belonged to him, while the camera “contained various pictures of Payne and his property,” Bakken said.

READ: Metchosin murder trial continues without one of the escaped inmates Follow us on Instagram. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
Read more