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'Keen touched everyone's heart,' says widow of West Vancouver drowning victim

Keen Lau died at age 45 while trying to save the couple’s beloved dog after it was swept away by the current in Cypress Creek
Widow Lisa Park said Labrador retriever Loki was like a son to the couple, who helped her and husband Keen Lau get through two miscarriages. | Courtesy of Lisa Park

In their final moments on Earth, Keen Lau and his dog Loki acted as two kindred spirits desperately trying to save one another.

In a tragic accident on Friday, both drowned in Cypress Creek. By his loved ones, Lau is remembered as a constant source of positivity who always put others first. West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager has also paid tribute, with an open letter describing Lau as a “dear friend” whose contributions to the community were many.

On Friday evening, Lau and his wife Lisa Park were walking their Labrador retriever in Cypress Falls Park in West Van. They had frequented the area, located near where they lived in Caulfeild.

After Loki became muddy near the playground area, Lau walked their dog down to a shallow spot by the tennis courts, Park said. Ever playful, Loki tried to grab a stick one second, and the next was swept away down the creek.

“We were shocked,” she said. “Keen screamed, ‘Loki!’”

As the couple rushed to search for the dog, Park said she found him first, downstream, because Lau had to hike up from where he and Loki were before.

“I found Loki and I tried to pull him out,” she said. “But I couldn’t – it was too hard.” Park said they were in a whirlpool area. Later, a police officer told her how dangerous this can be, because the water appears calm on the surface but the pull is very strong below. “Then Keen came down and in not even one second, he jumped in to save Loki,” Park said, adding that Lau did everything he could to save the dog, pushing on its rear from the water.

Still remaining calm in his voice, Lau began to realize that he couldn’t get Loki out of the water, Park said. “And then Keen was like, ‘Lisa, I need your help,’ so he grabbed my wrist. I tried to pull him up, but I couldn’t – I wish I was stronger,” she said.

Immediately she called 911, and first responders arrived within minutes. Members of West Vancouver Fire and Rescue and North Shore Rescue worked to find Lau and Loki into the evening, but the search was called off around midnight because it was getting too dark.

Park, along with Lau’s mother and brother, went back to the creek at first light on Saturday. They followed the creek about 50 metres down from where Lau went into the water. First, they found Loki, and then Lau soon after.

Just before 6 a.m., Park called 911 again and crews returned and recovered the bodies.

“I was waiting in the parking lot,” Park said. “I never thought that would be my last time to see him – like that. His body was so cold. I hugged him, I kissed him … I shook him and I rubbed my cheeks on his cheek. I asked him to wake up. I thought he was just cold, but he didn’t wake up.”

As Lau had tried to save Loki, Park learned that Loki had tried to do the same for Lau. At around 9 p.m. the night before, the dog had managed to get out of the water, a police officer told her. But then an hour later, he jumped back in.

“I think Loki knew Keen was still there and Loki would never leave Keen,” Park said. “Loki loved him so much.”

“Loki was a part of our family – he was our son. Especially after two miscarriages. The second miscarriage was really hard because I was four months [along]. It was really hard for us, and I think we just gave all our love to Loki.”

“So of course when your child is in the water, what dad wouldn’t jump in the water, right?”

Service and memorial being planned

Park said that Lau, who was 45 years old, is the type of person that would have jumped in to save anyone. “Keen touched everyone’s heart.”

In her own life as an elementary teacher in Burnaby, she told Lau that she didn’t want to meet any new friends, preferring quiet time after work. But Lau’s love of hosting friends would rub off on her.

“He always made beef Wellington and invited people over,” Park said. He also loved connecting with friends outdoors and giving back to others in the community.

“Even though he’s not here, I want to change myself to be more open,” she said, reflecting on all the new friends she’s made because of Lau. “I think he was right: I should be more social.”

The married couple had just returned from two large wedding ceremonies in Korea and Singapore this spring break, which were delayed due to the pandemic. In West Vancouver, they had moved in with Lau’s parents a few years ago to help with his mother Chui Han and father Laurence, who died last year.

Continuing their close relationship, Park and Chui have supported each other through Lau’s passing as well, along with his brother Lee Lau, who works as a stroke neurologist at Lions Gate Hospital.

“It’s really tough for her because her husband died last March and then just a little over one year later and she lost her son,” Park said.

Over the years, Lau has volunteered with BC Mountain Foundation, B.C. Children’s Hospital and the HSBC sponsored First Nations Youth Rugby Clinic. He also ran alongside Mayor Sager in last year’s municipal election. Running for a council seat, Lau garnered more than 2,700 votes, but did not win.

“Keen was universally loved by everyone who was fortunate enough to know him. He was a truly kind, devoted, and highly empathetic individual,” Sager wrote in a tribute to Lau on Sunday.

There is a service being planned that will be open to the public. More information will be released once a time and date are chosen. Park said she is in talks with Sager and the district to plan a memorial in Lau’s honour.

Once a ski instructor, Lau had a profound love of the mountains. “He said, ‘If I die, don’t bury me. Please spread my ashes in the mountains and ocean,’” Park said, adding that she will honour his wish.

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