‘Burnouts in the Sky’ for truck-loving Surrey man killed at a house party in Newton

Annual car show pays tribute to Bradley McPherson, whose accused killer will go to trial next month

Bradley McPherson with his beloved 1980 GMC truck he called “Emma.” (photo: submitted)

SURREY — If you didn’t see Bradley McPherson driving on the streets of Surrey, you might have heard him.

“He loved to do his burnouts,” his mom, Susan Simning, said with a laugh.

Until the night he died, McPherson adored a charcoal-coloured 1980 GMC short-box truck he named “Emma.”

He loved to drive her fast — sometimes too fast, according to his mother, and he loved to leave his mark, so to speak.

And so, in an annual tribute to her son, Simning helps plan a memorial event called Burnouts in the Sky, a show that features the kind of cars and trucks McPherson loved and appreciated.

The fifth annual showcase, set to take place at Cloverdale Fairgrounds on Aug. 19, will again be a gathering spot for McPherson’s family, friends and other people who share his passion for hot rods.

This year, however, the event comes with added meaning, as McPherson’s accused killer is finally about to go to trial.

Russell Bidesi, charged with second-degree murder, is scheduled to be in B.C. Supreme Court starting on Sept. 11, nearly six years after McPherson, at age 28, was shot dead at a house party in Newton.

It was early on Christmas Eve, 2011, and McPherson was at the “after-hours” party as a reluctant guest, according to Simning.

“They were at a local watering hole and decided to go to this party,” she said, “and Brad apparently didn’t really want to go because it was Christmas Eve the next day, but he got talked into it and followed along, because he’d know people there.”

Trouble started when a male guest harassed a female party-goer, Simning said.

“Brad, being who he was, a guy who didn’t condone such treatment of women, stood up and said something to the guy, for him to show some respect,” she said.

The guy left the party, she said, but later returned.

Not long after that, McPherson was shot dead.

The delayed trial date has been difficult for family and friends to deal with.

“It’s been very hard that way, but our family has an amazing support team and the majority of them have all rallied to do this car show with us,” Simning said.

As always, the refurbished truck known as “Emma” will be displayed prominently at the car show, next to a stage for live music featuring the band Me and Mae, Emily Taylor Adams, McPherson’s younger sister Mariah Simning and others.

Following McPherson’s death, his family and friends lost track of the truck, which had been sold along the way.

“A year later, it was fate, I don’t know, because a friend of ours saw an ad on Craigslist and called me saying, ‘Isn’t that Brad’s truck?’ And I was like, ‘Yes it is!’ and within a 24-hour period, it was at our doorstep. We bought it back.”

With a beer garden, vendors, stunt riders, an auction and other attractions part of the action, the car show raises money for a scholarship in McPherson’s name. It’s for high school students who, like McPherson did at schools in North Delta and Surrey, struggle with attention-deficit disorder.

Close to 1,000 people attend Burnouts in the Sky each year, said Simning, who lives in Langley.

“In the past we’ve had close to 200 (vehicles displayed) but this year we’re looking to double that, at least, because there’s just been more effort to tell people about it, and we’ve really flyered everywhere, at other car shows and events. A lot of people are more aware of the event, and the more publicity we get, the bigger it gets.”

tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com