Three handwritten signs on blue and green paper are taped to an empty water tank inside a storage compound at 860 Logan Ave.

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Three handwritten signs on blue and green paper are taped to an empty water tank inside a storage compound at 860 Logan Ave.

"R.I.P. George," one reads. "Justice for George," reads another. The third is a child’s drawing of a tree. The fence post beside it is bent inward.

George Birch, 82, was struck and killed by a truck Tuesday morning, as he tried to stop a break-and-enter and theft in progress at his north central Winnipeg compound, city police say. The driver fled the scene.

Police said 22-year-old Matthew Jacob Hildebrand was later arrested and charged with manslaughter, breaking and entering, and failing to stop after an accident resulting in death.

Keith Birch, the victim’s son, said the stolen goods included a tow truck, snow-plowing truck, five-ton truck — all of which he described as "derelict" — New Holland skid steer, and his father's Mercedes.

By the time Birch arrived at the scene Tuesday morning, there was nothing of great value left in the building being broken into, Keith said in an interview Wednesday.

"They were just taking everything for scrap," said Keith. "They killed my dad over scrap."

Birch was born in West St. Paul and worked with his hands for 45 years, repairing fiberglass boats before getting into steel fabrication, said Keith.

Police officers work at the scene of a motor vehicle collision involving a pedestrian near the corner of Logan Avenue and Tecumseh Street in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Police officers work at the scene of a motor vehicle collision involving a pedestrian near the corner of Logan Avenue and Tecumseh Street in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

"He was such a hard worker," he said. "He had lots of money, but he never splurged. He drove an old car. He was very business wise."

Birch got along with everyone in the construction business; he was well-respected, his son said. The signs on the water tanks were put up by a co-worker of Keith’s, as a sign of solidarity.

While Birch was tough, Keith said, he’d told his dad to be careful when visiting the compound, not to get involved if he saw something.

"I told him, call me if there’s anybody there," he said. "But my dad was stubborn. He was always like that; he’ll confront anybody."

Standing in his steel shop, less than five kilometres from the crime scene, amongst piles of tools, scrap and machines that left only narrow alleys for walking, Keith’s face twitched as he struggled to maintain himself.

He’s angry, he said. "Of course. Who wouldn’t be?"

His dad was 82. He could no longer walk without trouble, and he was run down for protecting his property, Keith said.

Referring to Hildebrand, Keith said: "He knows people who know him." However, the size of the alleged operation leaves him sure there’s more suspects involved.

"This was well-thought out," Keith said, adding two trailers were brought in to load up the scrap metal.

<p>A memorial in honour of George Birch, who was struck and killed by a vehicle while attempting to stop a break and enter.</p>

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A memorial in honour of George Birch, who was struck and killed by a vehicle while attempting to stop a break and enter.

"Whether the kid did it purposely or not, he still killed him. He’s a grown-up," said Keith. "He deserves what he gets. I’d like to see him in jail for the rest of his life, but I know that’s not going to happen."

The charges against Hildebrand have not been proven in court.

Hildebrand has a handful of prior convictions.

Last year, he was sentenced in Steinbach provincial court to one year of supervised probation, after pleading guilty to unlawful use of a credit card.

In March 2017, Hildebrand was parked with three friends outside a Steinbach service station late at night after it had closed when police found him in possession of a loaded rifle and a can of bear spray. Hildebrand pleaded guilty to a pair of weapon offences in connection to that incident, as well as theft of gasoline, after he drove off from a service station months earlier without paying.

He was sentenced to a total of 18 months of supervised probation.

Winnipeg police Const. Dani McKinnon said the service always recommends people consider their own safety first when confronting potential criminal activity, but acknowledged instinct can kick in.

"It is commendable, but unfortunately can and has at times led to tragic outcomes for the individual trying to help," he said Wednesday in an email.

Police ask anyone with information that may assist investigators call 204-986-6219 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

cody.sellar@freepress.mb.ca

— with files from Dean Pritchard

Cody Sellar

Cody Sellar
Community Journalist

Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review West. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies. Email him at cody.sellar@canstarnews.com or call him at 204-697-7206.