Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Drug-trade war behind killing at Sals

Two shot in targeted attack at Pembina Highway restaurant

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The war between emerging crime groups for control of the city's drug trade is believed to be responsible for the fatal shooting early Thursday at a Salisbury House restaurant.

Jeffrey Lau was killed, and a companion was injured, in a brazen shooting just before 3 a.m. inside the popular diner at Pembina Highway and Stafford Street.

"Both (Lau and his companion) have ties to Winnipeg's drug-trafficking underworld," a justice source told the Free Press. "There is a lot of turmoil in Winnipeg's very competitive illicit drug market right now."

Police stressed the public isn't at risk.

This morning officers from the police identification unit were at work in the still closed restaurant, with their vehicle parked outside.

Police tape is still up today with officers in at least three police cruisers guarding the scene.

Morning traffic was back to usual, but curious onlookers in passing vehicles were observing the scene.

Police Chief Keith McCaskill said the victims are believed to have been targeted by the shooter.

"This does not appear to be a random shooting and it appears that the individual has fled the area," McCaskill said.

The gunman fled the restaurant on foot. Police found a semi-automatic handgun, a 9-mm Glock, three blocks away, at Stafford and Hector Avenue.

Even though police had access to restaurant surveillance video and statements from several witnesses, no description of the suspect was released Thursday. Police did not release any information about the victims.

Six or seven bullet holes could be seen in the Sals windows, widely spaced from each other.

Paramedics worked frantically on Lau inside the restaurant and as they carried him on a stretcher to an ambulance, but he died from his injuries.

The other man was initially in unstable condition but had been upgraded to stable late Thursday morning.

No one else in the restaurant was hurt. A spokesman for Salisbury House said interior surveillance video was given to police and staff and customers gave witness statements.

Residents and business operators had varied reactions to the shooting.

"It's the nature of the beast -- violence is all over," resident Scott Johnson said. "No part of the community is immune to violence. It could have been anywhere."

Roberta Talmage, office manager for Sutton Realtors, located across the street from the Sals, said she doesn't think the shooting is a reflection of changes in the neighbourhood.

"We've been here for almost 20 years and this has never happened here before," Talmage said. "I don't think we'll ever see it again."

Leanne Houlaston, another area resident, said she was upset.

"Pembina is usually a quiet area. We never see anything like this except for traffic accidents. But this makes me think twice about where I live. This is just -- I don't know -- something I don't want to see here."

Mayor Sam Katz called the attack surreal.

"It's the kind of thing you might watch on TV or see in a movie," Katz told reporters. "It was targeted. It was a specific scenario that had taken place there. It wasn't just a random shooting.

"We certainly hope the people are apprehended as soon as possible. I know the WPS will do their job to the best of their ability."

Frank Cormier, a University of Manitoba criminologist, said the boldness of the attack is surprising.

"To walk into a restaurant and shoot at people is either just stupidity or it's an attempt to make a statement," Cormier said.

"The shooting looks like unprofessional types looking to make a name for themselves or looking to make a statement by being that brazen and that public."

Cormier said despite the brazenness of the attack, he doesn't believe it signifies an escalation in the war for control of the drug trade.

"It looks very obviously to be targeted, people known to each other, some sort of relationship between the shooter and the people he shot."

Cormier said since Winnipeg police dismantled the Hells Angels -- who had controlled the drug trade -- various groups have emerged to fight for a share of the illegal profits, adding those groups lack the discipline of the veteran bikers.

The smaller gangs, Cormier said, tend to be more outwardly violent, not choosing to keep their activities and vendettas private.

Lau had minimal contact with the justice system. Court records show that in 2008 and 2009, he pleaded guilty and was fined for violating court-imposed conditions. He pleaded guilty in January to a two-year-old assault charge and was sentenced to unsupervised probation.

-- with files from Bartley Kives

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2012 B1

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Updated on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 9:32 AM CDT: Updated

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