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20-year-old B.C. man dies after stepping on a live wire in Peru

Camden Verlaan of Roberts Creek was on the 'journey of a lifetime' and volunteering in Peru when he died on March 8.
Camden Verlaan of Roberts Creek, BC, died on March 8 in Peru.

In mid-January, 20-year-old Camden Verlaan left his hometown of Roberts Creek for what should have been the journey of a lifetime. Last week, his mother Suzanne Matovic got the news "every parent dreads ever getting" when a Sunshine Coast RCMP officer informed her that her son had died in Peru. 

In the afternoon of March 8, Verlaan was walking back to his apartment in Huanchaco, Peru, after surfing when he stepped on a live wire on a waterfront walkway and was electrocuted.

Verlaan was volunteering at a dog sanctuary in the tourist destination of Huanchaco, where he planned to learn Spanish, dance salsa and spend his days surfing. 

Local news outlets reported upgrades to the walkway began earlier that day and that the Peruvian National Police are investigating what kind of safety warnings were present, if any, of the exposed high-voltage cable. The family has heard from the embassy and consulates, said Matovic. 

“This was just pure, absolute pure neglect,” Matovic said of the circumstances of her son’s death. “It's not something I'm ever going to reconcile, because it shouldn't have happened.”

Verlaan’s father is in Huanchaco retracing his son's steps, and Matovic said he’s been approached by supportive locals who are enraged by Verlaan’s death. 

While a local celebration of life does not yet have a set date, a celebration of life has already been held in Huanchaco. Verlaan had endeared himself to locals as helpful, spending some time at the market to help older vendors move heavy boxes of mangos and pineapples. 

“He just had this way of connecting with people. He didn’t care how much money you make or how you dressed. In his eyes, everyone was equal, deserving of attention and connection,” Matovic said. “Everywhere he went, people would stop me in Roberts Creek and say he’s just such a bright light.” 

Upon hearing the news of Verlaan’s death, his friends have returned home to Roberts Creek to support one another and the family. “Everyone was just absolutely gutted and there’s no way to make this OK,” Matovic said.

Verlaan was sick for years of his short life, his mother said. Although active in soccer and lacrosse at a young age, Verlaan was diagnosed with celiac disease and struggled with his health. Verlaan was smart, but he also questioned the importance of school. Matovic, an educational assistant at Gibsons Elementary School, encouraged him to receive an education and said he was inspired by his teacher Tom Harder at the Horizon alternative school in Sechelt. Verlaan received his Dogwood Diploma in December 2022. 

“It was so courageous for him because after all these years of being sick and struggles, he just graduated, just got his braces off. He felt it was time. He was ready and it was time to do something different,” Matovic said. 

Verlaan wanted to travel and be useful. His mother said he always had a passion for animals, especially dogs, and when Verlaan found a sanctuary that takes care of rescued dogs, it seemed like a good fit. He saved up money by working at the Gumboot Cafe in Roberts Creek. Verlaan planned to volunteer for six months before spending time in Argentina then meet up with his sister in Paris to visit their father in North Africa. The whole adventure was supposed to last a year.

Verlaan’s body is expected to arrive home soon.

“I just want people to know that he was in the prime of his life and just such a bright light,” his mother said. “[He was] living his best life, and it was taken away from him.”