Gunned down near his own bike shop, Dragan surprised everyone by surviving. How did he end up taking a bullet, and what can other entrepreneurs learn from his ordeal?
It is Tuesday morning, June 10, 2014. At the False Creek end of Vancouver’s Davie Street, grocery shoppers come and go at Urban Fare, and a woman pushes a baby carriage up the street toward Pacific Boulevard. A thick-set man with a grey beard, wearing a bike helmet and a large yellow backpack, comes around the corner from Marinaside Crescent onto the east side of Davie. He is carrying something inside a white plastic bag. Moments later, pedestrians recoil from the explosive concussion of a large-calibre gunshot. A man drops to the sidewalk in front of Starbucks, bleeding out from a massive chest wound.
By chance, two Vancouver Police Department officers in plain clothes have just pulled up, and they jump out of their car with guns drawn. The shooter turns his fire on them and backs away, handgun out, white plastic bag still flapping around his wrist. As he moves around the corner, a bullet shatters the glass of a condo tower lobby. The gunman hops onto a bike and takes off down the seawall. Meanwhile, a passing doctor desperately tries to stop the bleeding. The victim is loaded into an ambulance, leaving most of his blood on the sidewalk. “But the ambulance didn’t move,” local resident Adam Hunter later tells a TV reporter, “so I had a feeling he wasn’t doing that good.”
It was among the most dramatic shootouts ever seen on the streets of Vancouver. And poor Paul Dragan missed it all. “I have no memory of any of it,” he says.
Three years later, the owner of three Reckless Bike Stores looks remarkably healthy—trim, athletic, younger than his 55 years. A little greyer, perhaps, but that tends to happen even when one is not shot in the chest by a former employee. A shirtless photo would show extensive surgical scars, and an X-ray a pair of lungs that no longer match. But Dragan does not have the appearance of a man whose survival once faced the kind of odds associated with a $25 ticket on the PNE Prize Home.
His shooting may be an extreme case, but it’s not unprecedented. There are 350,000 cases of workplace violence across the country every year, Statistics Canada reports. “It exists on a continuum, from incivility to disrespect to bullying and harassment to physical violence,” says Vancouver-based workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman.
Small businesses without human resources departments may be most vulnerable, especially given recent labour shortages. Even a casual employee hired for temporary work is still a staff member. “Hiring is not something to be trifled with,” says Heather MacKenzie, founder and senior partner of the Integrity Group, a Vancouver consulting firm that helps organizations prevent and resolve workplace harassment, discrimination and physical violence. “Employers have to pay attention to every danger sign, from inappropriate comments to uncivil behaviour.”
WorkSafeBC logged 1,954 violent incidents in this province in 2015, a 17 per cent increase over the previous year. Between 2006 and 2015, 11 people died as a result of workplace violence, eight of them from gunshots. That Paul Dragan failed to make that list is a story as improbable as any fantasy tale of fire-breathing monsters.
On a sunny fall day in 2017, Reckless on Davie is hopping. A little truck pulls up with a load of wonky bicycles, sent over from a local hotel for repairs. Tourists returning rentals cluster at the podium out front. A shirtless and unshaven man wheels up on a battered bike and asks to use some tools. Dragan obliges, and the man sets about tightening screws. “We don’t like to set a precedent for doing free repairs, but it’s a good policy to help people out,” Dragan says.
That same corporate philosophy had once been applied to an occasional Reckless employee named Gerald Battersby. Dragan had placed a help-wanted ad for a part-time position assembling bikes. Battersby answered. “He had some bike store experience,” Dragan recalls. “A little cuckoo. But that’s what you get in a bike store. Over the years you get used to that.”
Dragan has been in the bike business a long time, especially if you include the two-and-a-half years he spent competing on the European racing circuit in the early 1980s. “Too many drugs,” he says now. “All those problems you saw surrounding Lance Armstrong, that’s not recent. That’s been going on for 100 years.”
Born in Montreal and raised in Nova Scotia, Dragan ended up in Vancouver in 1983. With a couple of partners, he opened the first version of Reckless—called Reckless Rider Cyclery—in May of ’86, catching the Expo wave. Dragan supplemented his income by working nights as a waiter at the Hotel Vancouver, and the bike shop thrived at first. But four years later his partners forced him out, and the business itself lasted only another year.
His next venture, a commercial construction company, soon gained traction. “We built the Starbucks in the old Manhattan Building at Burrard and Thurlow,” Dragan recalls. “That was a big contract for us.” But on Boxing Day 1992, he noticed moving vans outside the cycle shop at West Second Avenue and Fir Street—the former location of Reckless Rider. Dragan, who felt he had learned a lot since his first Reckless experience, had never lost the bike bug. Striking a deal with the landlord, he opened Reckless the Bike Store in February 1993. Dragan was determined to concentrate on customer service, drawing on his experience as a waiter in the ’80s along with the business savvy gained in construction. “I know how to take money out of their wallets and leave smiles on their faces,” he says. In 2000 he launched the Reckless location at the foot of Davie.
Dragan was content to stick with what he knew—electric bikes weren’t his thing. But in 2011 a kid named Tony Sun started hanging around the shop. He and Melody Chan had just launched a line of electric bikes called eProdigy. Dragan agreed to put some of their stock on the floor. “As Paul puts it, we started dating before we got married,” Sun recalls. In early 2014, the relationship bloomed into a full-fledged Reckless e-bike shop on Hornby Street, managed by Sun. “He was our first dealer,” Sun says. “It was huge for us.” The Reckless family had grown to three. Dragan, who started with just three staff, now employs a seasonal high of 22.
One of his seasonal employees, Battersby had started work at the Davie Street location in the summer of 2013. “He talked a tremendous amount,” Dragan says. “We tried to use him in the store, but he would say inappropriate things, especially to women, like ‘I bet you’d look better if you wore tighter shorts’—you know, weird stuff. We said, ‘We can’t have that guy in the store.’ So no problem, he’s in the basement assembling bikes.”
Dragan owned a rental property in Kerrisdale that was occupied by a mentally challenged man named Joel, the son of a family friend. Over the summer, Battersby and Joel became beer-drinking buddies. One day in August, Battersby approached Dragan with a proposal: “‘Joel’s got an extra room upstairs, and he’d like me to move in.’ I said I didn’t think it was a good idea.”
But Battersby persisted. “So I sat down with them and drew up a contract,” Dragan says. “I said, ‘At the end of 90 days, if it isn’t working out for whatever reason, Gerry, you are leaving.’ And I had told him I had no more work for him after September. He’d have to find something else.”
Things at the Kerrisdale house degenerated quickly. By December, police had been called about a physical altercation between the roommates. “I said to Gerry, ‘You’ve gotta go,’” Dragan recounts. “‘You need to be out by the end of the month.’ Finally got him out of the house by the end of April. The place was stacked high with newspapers, pieces of string, plastic margarine containers—the guy was a hoarder. I separated the good stuff and put it in the carport with a tarp over it. Eventually I got a text from him saying, ‘You asshole, you put all my stuff out in the rain.’”
Someone had apparently removed Battersby’s goods from the carport. Dragan doesn’t know who, but he suspects Joel had something to do with it. Battersby was enraged. His brother, Carl, later told CBC News reporter Bal Brach about a conversation he had with Gerald: “He says, ‘Don’t be surprised if you hear I’ve gone and killed somebody.’”
As it turns out, Battersby hadn’t lost all of his most valuable possessions. Somehow, along with the newspapers, margarine tubs and bits of string, he had managed to acquire a .44 revolver.
Gerald Battersby (shown here in a surveillance video) was convicted of three counts of attempted murder
Surveillance video from June 10, 2014, shows Battersby on his bicycle hanging around the foot of Davie Street. By 11:13 a.m., Dragan and then–Reckless store manager Lee Miller are sitting out front of Starbucks as Battersby is seen striding toward them. Visible behind him is a blue Ford Focus, waiting for a parking spot. Inside are two Vancouver Police detectives, Christopher Berda and Glynis Griffiths, on a routine coffee run.
You can meet a lot of people at a Starbucks—baristas, small business owners, doctors, lifeguards, police officers. At 11:14 a.m., all of those are present at the south Davie branch. Physician Clifford Chase is in the lineup. The cops have just pulled up to the curb when shouting is heard from the sidewalk. Berda recalls: “Glynis looks back and says, ‘What’s going on over here?’ I look out the rear passenger window and see a gun come up. A very big gun.” “You screwed me over,” Battersby shouts.
“The shot was deafening,” Berda remembers. Dragan is hit in the upper right chest. According to Miller, Dragan manages to say, “Gerry, you shot me.” Then he falls.
Berda and Griffiths are now out of their car, guns drawn, shouting, “Police! Drop the gun!” Battersby fires at them while backing away around the corner. The officers shoot back. One of Berda’s bullets blows out the lobby glass of the Aquarius 1 condo tower. “My fear is he’s going to make his way into that building,” Berda says. “I want to stop him from barricading himself.”
Physician Clifford Chase (right) attends to a wounded Paul Dragan in June 2014
Next door at Provence Marinaside restaurant, maître d’ Emrys Horton recognizes the sound of gunfire and yells at his staffers to take cover in the kitchen. As Horton calls 911, several diners have their phones out to record the scene. “One woman runs to the window to see,” he says, “and a bullet hits the building probably two inches from where she is standing.”
Battersby is now on the seawall. The officers are holding their fire—“The park is full of people,” Berda says. Sirens are growing louder. A fire truck arrives. “We have enough people in Yaletown,” Berda tells dispatch. “Start sending them to Science World.”
Chase reaches Dragan moments after the shooting. “He was bleeding to death,” Chase says. Rolling him onto his side, Chase sees an exit wound at least six inches wide. With the Starbucks staff pressed into service as trauma nurses (our apologies, ma’am—your low-fat vanilla latte may be delayed), he calls for a large towel and jams it into the hole in Dragan’s back. Still, Chase says later, “I didn’t think he’d even make it to the operating room.”
The call to British Columbia Ambulance Service Station 261 at Columbia Street and West Seventh Avenue is fielded by Jason Davies and Scott Bailey. As the howling ambulance speeds over the Cambie Bridge, Battersby is still on the loose somewhere below. That’s typically bad news for first responders and victims alike. “It’s very rare that we get immediate clearance when there’s an active shooter,” Davies says. But on the worst day of his life, Dragan is starting a remarkable run of good luck. Because Berda and Griffiths have been able to confirm that Battersby has fled, the paramedics are instantly cleared for action. And this is just the team you want to have for a serious gunshot wound—advanced life support paramedics with extra training for emergency situations.
By the time Battersby reaches Science World, an unmarked car is already on the walkway to the south while other officers are in place. Battersby charges out from his hiding spot and toward the car, firing his .44. A bullet shatters the passenger-side window, and Const. Nadia D’Andrea is struck by flying glass. Battersby runs to the driver’s side of the car, chasing Const. Josef Mancin around to the back of the vehicle. Officers open fire. The suspect drops, wounded in several places. Berda and other officers swarm in to cuff him. “What’s your name?” Berda asks.
“Don’t you know who I am?” Battersby replies.
Despite all the shots fired, Battersby’s wounds and D’Andrea’s glass lacerations are the only injuries. Except, of course, for the man lying in front of Starbucks in a spreading lake of blood.
Dragan has no pulse. Davies, Bailey and the firemen get him into the ambulance and strap him down. Davies drills into the bone behind Dragan’s knee to start a transfusion procedure. As a firefighter performs CPR, Bailey inserts a tracheal breathing tube. Davies begins pumping a saline wash and a shot of epinephrine into Dragan’s system. He has a pulse again. But there’s not much to circulate—Dragan has 75 per cent less blood than he started the day with.
First responders move Dragan to an ambulance
A relatively quiet Tuesday morning at Vancouver General Hospital has given way to fevered preparation. “From the time we were dispatched to the time we reached VGH was 14 minutes,” Davies says. “Sometimes when we’re having a beer with other paramedics, they want to call bullshit on that. ‘Fourteen minutes, in an active shooter situation? Come on.’”
Dr. Morad Hameed asks Dragan’s wife, Ericka, for permission for a last-gasp procedure, a thoracotomy that will cut open her husband’s breastplate. Hameed dismantles Dragan’s chest like a Lego set and massages his heart by hand. “He told me later,” Dragan says, “that it went thump... thump... thump thump thump thump. When they got that heartbeat, the entire mood in the trauma bay changed.”
When Dragan finally reaches the operating room, the top of his lung is removed along with bullet fragments. He spends the next six days in an induced coma. “I went to get coffee, I woke up in the hospital a week later, and my wife told me I had been shot,” Dragan says. “I looked down and there were all these tubes coming out of my chest.
“Because I have no recollection of anything, I often feel like it happened to someone else and they switched me with that guy in the hospital,” he adds. “It’s like I’m Burt Reynolds, except some stunt double did the whole movie for me and I just stepped in to show my face at the end. Now I’m at the Academy Awards accepting congratulations. It’s a bit surreal.”
Apparently killing Paul Dragan had only been step one in Battersby’s plan—his former roommate and Ericka Dragan were to be next. A personal day planner recovered outside Science World contained an entry dated June 9: “Kill—Joel G., Paul D. and Erika [sic] D.... Adios assholes.” The phrase “death by cop” was also noted.
Eventually Battersby would plead guilty to three counts of attempted murder (for Dragan, Mancin and D’Andrea—shooting at Berda and Griffiths didn’t even make that list) and two firearms offences. In October 2016, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
There’s often a desire to draw lessons from such a traumatic event—How Not to Be Shot by a Maniacal Employee. Dragan is reluctant. “It was such an anomaly,” he says. “I would expect a disgruntled employee to key my car, throw a rock through the window, write ‘Paul Dragan is an asshole’ on the door, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect something so severe.”
But is there any way to spot this kind of serious trouble developing?
Cori Maedel, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based HR consulting firm Jouta Performance Group, believes there may be lessons. “As employers, it’s our duty to inquire about changes in behaviour,” Maedel says. She warns against ignoring signs of stress and trouble in an employee’s life. “Don’t avoid it and hope it will go away,” Maedel says. “Talk about it before it escalates.”
Dragan’s situation with Battersby was more complex because it had ceased to be simply a workplace issue—he had become Battersby’s landlord. “I suppose my mistake was trying to help him find a place to live,” Dragan admits.
“However well-intentioned, intervention in an employee’s personal life can have consequences,” Maedel says. “I consulted with one business that planned to lend an employee $150,000. What if it goes wrong? You need to be very careful about crossing that line from the professional into the personal.”
The Integrity Group’s MacKenzie recommends that employers obtain workplace threat assessments from companies like Lions Gate Risk Management Group and ProActive ReSolutions Inc., or contact WorkSafeBC for free expert advice. And, if necessary, they should call the cops. “Listen to your gut,” MacKenzie says. “There will be situations where an employee is experiencing problems, perhaps with a persistent customer or a disgruntled spouse. You can’t ignore it. No one is going to blame you if you call the police and say, ‘These are my concerns about the situation.’”
MacKenzie also suggests making plans for scenarios ranging from employee violence to robbery. “Equip your space,” she says. “Do you have a panic button? Do you have security cameras that are properly angled to see faces? Do you have a proper money transfer process?”
Although MacKenzie agrees that the Battersby case falls outside the normal realm of workplace violence—“It’s almost more of a domestic violence situation”—she believes there are still lessons for employers. “Boundaries are important,” she stresses. “Work is not just about tasks. It’s about respectful interactions.”
Not surprisingly, the experience has affected Dragan’s approach. “I am more guarded about the help that I give,” he concedes. “My wife says, ‘Don’t hire any more nutcases, Paul.’ I say, ‘You don’t understand the bike business.’ But she’s right. There’s a rule in retail: hire slowly, fire quickly. We were probably doing the reverse.”
About six weeks after the shooting, police officers Berda and Griffiths paid a visit to Dragan’s home. “I don’t know what I expected to see,” Berda says. “A guy in a hospital bed, perhaps. We come in, and he’s up and doing some business at his computer. He says, ‘Be with you in a sec.’ I was astounded. I’m still astounded.”
The following June, Paul was in Toronto with Ericka to receive the 2015 Independent Retail Ambassador of the Year Award from the Retail Council of Canada.
For all those who saw Dragan lying on the sidewalk on that terrible day in 2014, his routine existence might seem like HBO special effects. But staying alive wasn’t about magic. “Whenever I go back to the hospital, people come up and say, ‘Hi, Paul, you don’t know me, but I was here the day you first came in, and I’m so glad to see you,’” he says. “My survival is a testament to their skills. They can look at me and say, ‘All that stuff we worked on, it really works. We saved that guy’s life.’”
Bailey and Davies offered Dragan a rare memento—their “collar dogs,” the coveted lapel pins that advanced life support paramedics receive after certification. “I told Paul that helping him pull through was like winning the Stanley Cup,” Bailey says. “A once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Dragan’s physical resilience has been remarkable, but the bike business takes some fortitude, too. Although Vancouver’s Mobi by Shaw Go street bike rental service has impacted sales, he says opportunities have multiplied. Increasingly, Reckless is teaming up with hotels and condo developers to provide and repair bikes offered to guests and residents. “My focus now is, how do I go get revenue instead of waiting for it?” Dragan says. Reckless, which has a mobile service vehicle, provided mechanical assistance for last September’s GranFondo Whistler ride free of charge. “It’s a way to connect with current customers and meet new ones,” Dragan says. “It’s all about personal relationships.”
These days Paul Dragan appears to be in excellent health. And he has a new GP to keep him that way. The doctor’s name is Clifford Chase. It’s just good business—you take new customers wherever you find them.