The doctor who tried to revive Ryan Kereluk at Victoria Hospital called Kereluk’s death an “out-of-the-ordinary situation” while giving testimony at a coroners inquest on Tuesday.
Dr. Martin Veith was the first of seven witnesses to testify on day two of the public inquest into Kereluk’s death. Veith was on duty when paramedics arrived with Kereluk at around 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 2018. He said there are a number of reasons Kereluk could have passed away, which makes it hard to determine what happened.
“It was difficult to know,” Veith said when asked about the cause of death. “It seemed like an out-of-the-ordinary situation.”
Aspiration was one of several possibilities Veith put forward. It occurs when foreign objects such as food, water or vomit begin clogging airways, making it difficult to breath or to administer CPR. Kereluk had vomited multiple times before guards discovered his body.
However, Veith said there was nothing to indicate massive aspiration in the body, and added that paramedics had done a good job of removing any excess fluids from the mouth while performing CPR.
Veith also said it was difficult to explain why Kereluk drank more than 40 classes of water in the 12.5 hours before he perished. Drugs like methamphetamine can cause “dry mouth”, however Veith said that isn’t the only possible explanation. Infection and illness can also cause people to start increasing the amount of water they drink. Even then, the sheer volume of water Kereluk drank was puzzling.
“It’s hard to give an exact cause,” Veith told the jury. “It’s not normal, that amount of thirst.”
Although hospital staff continued CPR efforts until 8:53 a.m., Veith said he believes Kereluk was already dead when he arrived in hospital at 8:32 a.m. He added that it’s incredibly rare to revive someone if CPR efforts don’t start within five minutes, but said they hoped Kereluk would be an exception because of his young age.
Many of the other witnesses who were called told the jury Kereluk appeared to be in good health after he was arrested on outstanding warrants following the execution of a search warrant at a residence on Sixth Avenue West.
Four members of the Prince Albert Police Service, including two members of the Integrated Street Enforcement Team (ISET) that conducted the search, testified that Kereluk appeared in good health during their interactions with him two days before he died.
Const. Tanner Shultz said Kereluk was jittery and talked quickly when arrested on May 16, 2018. However, Shultz said that’s a normal response considering the circumstances.
He added that Kereluk was cooperative with officers, and didn’t appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If not for the outstanding warrants, Kereluk would have been immediately released since ISET officers did not believe he was involved in drug trafficking.
Const. Jonathan Wild interviewed Kereluk the day after the arrest. Wild told the inquest that Kereluk was honest and open with police about taking drugs and having outstanding warrants, and did not appear to be intoxicated in any way.
Wild added that Kereluk had a bottle of Ibuprofen and that it appeared to be a legitimate prescription. He passed Kereluk one pill of Ibuprofen after the latter requested it following the interview.
Const. Brad Grolla was the patrol officer responsible for transporting Kereluk to the police cells following his arrest. Like Shultz and Wild, Grolla said Kereluk was cooperative and talkative during the process, and appeared to be sober. He also said Kereluk did not ask for medical help, and didn’t appear to be in distress.
“In my opinion, he was normal,” Grolla told the inquest.
Much of Tuesday’s inquest focused on drug ingestion, and whether Kereluk could have concealed drugs from officers and snuck them into the cells, or whether he ingested them during the frenzied ISET raid.
Josey Belcher, a friend of Kereluk’s and the primary target of the ISET search warrant, said he doubted Kereluk had enough time to hide drugs from officers during the raid. ISET members estimated he would have had about seven seconds to hide or ingest any drugs before officers found him in the basement of the residence.
Belcher doesn’t believe Kereluk wanted to conceal drugs from police, and said seven seconds wouldn’t have been enough time to do so anyway. He described the experience of police raids as being like a deer caught in the headlights.
Belcher told the inquest everyone living in the residence, including Kereluk who appeared to be just spending the night, was doing drugs at that time. Belcher was also selling them, which led ISET to search the home. He is currently serving out a sentence at the Prince Albert Grand Council Spiritual Healing Lodge, and is slated for full release on Jan. 16, 2021.
Belcher was in a nearby police cell the night Kereluk passed away. In hindsight, Belcher said he should have known something was wrong because Kereluk was not as talkative as normal in the hours before he died.
The jury also heard a recorded statement from Ramona Ross, who was transported to police cells in the same squad car as Kereluk. Ross sounded distraught during the interview, which was recorded shortly after Kereluk’s death.
She cried frequently after hearing of his passing, and told police that although Kereluk was addicted to drugs, she didn’t believe he had another besides his bottle of Ibuprofen when he was taken into the police cells.
Coroners council was unable to get Ross to appear in person. They contacted family members in Montreal Lake, who told them she had moved to Edmonton and only answered messages through Facebook. Council was not able to get in touch with her before the inquest started.
The Inquest into the Death of Ryan Kereluk continues today at the Court of Queen’s Bench. The morning session begins at 9:30 a.m.