It was an emotional day of testimony as the Inquest into the Death of Ryan Kereluk entered its final stages at Prince Albert’s Court of Queen’s Bench.
The inquest heard from six different witnesses on Thursday, five of which were involved with emergency efforts to save Kereluk’s life after he was found unresponsive in a Prince Albert police cell. The last witness, Parkland Ambulance advanced care paramedic Tracey Detillieux, brought family members to tears as she answered questions about those final last-ditch efforts. It eventually lead coroner Timothy Hawryluk to call for a brief pause in the proceedings.
Detillieux, a 26-year veteran of Parkland Ambulance, said she has never seen a call where everything was done as perfectly as it was that morning. Still, it wasn’t enough to revive Kereluk. She told a somber court room that in her professional opinion, Kereluk had likely passed away before paramedics even arrived on the scene, despite the best efforts of the three police officers attending to him.
“In my heart of hearts, I believe police did what they could,” she said.
Kereluk’s legal time of death is listed at around 8:53 a.m. on May 18, 2018, but most witnesses pegged the actual time as at least an hour earlier in the day. Another Parkland Ambulance paramedic, Lyle Karasiuk, agreed with Detillieux’s conclusion during his testimony, saying Kereluk appeared to already be deceased in video surveillance footage taken just before police entered his cell at around 7:54 a.m. Karasiuk added that the photo graph didn’t give enough information for him to say whether reviving Kereluk was even possible.
The first witness of the day, forensic pathologist Dr. Shaun Ladham, also echoed those sentiments. He said Kereluk likely passed away sometime between 7 a.m. and 7:53 a.m., and added that it was unlikely medical intervention would have revived him. However, he also said there was no way to be 100 per cent sure.
The debate over time of death was an important one as jury members prepare to start deliberating their recommendations on Friday. Coroners inquests are designed to improve best practices, not find fault or assign guilt, but with all questions answered about the medical response, coroner Timothy Hawryluk returned to the topic of guard training.
Hawryluk had a number of questions for Sgt. Eric Tiesson, the Prince Albert Police Service officer who sounded the alarm after finding Kereluk’s body. Tiesson testified early Thursday afternoon, and faced multiple queries about the police service’s guard policy manual.
Hawryluk said previous testimony showed guards checking in on Kereluk between 7 and 7:53 a.m. without noticing anything was wrong, something he called “concerning.” He was also concerned about the prison guard policy manual, which he said was outdated, and didn’t give guards and matrons a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
He also pointed out that according to previous testimony, guards and supervisors were not even sure about the chain of command.
Hawryluk said Prince Albert police resources are obviously stretched thin, and officers rely on guards and matrons to be their eyes and ears in the cells. He said updating and enforcing the guard policy manual could make things more efficient.
He also floated the idea of giving guards and matrons basic first aid training courses so they could better identify health problems in the prisoners under their supervision. That would allow them to contact police or paramedics in a timelier manner.
“It seems like everyone would benefit,” Hawryluk said.
Tiesson told the inquest he believed police guards were competent and able to meet the job’s requirements. However, he also agreed that providing additional training would help improve those efforts.
Despite the somber tone, family members expressed gratitude to Tiesson and the other police officers and paramedics who tried to save Kereluk’s life. Tina Vermette, Kereluk’s mother, thanked each of them as they left the witness box for doing everything they could, and broke down when Detillieux said she was sorry they couldn’t do more.
The inquest will reconvene at 9:30 today at the Court of Queen’s Bench. Hawryluk will give his final comments before the six-person jury begins deliberating their recommendations. The process will likely take at least two to three hours.
Forensic pathologist says meth toxicity was cause of death, others unsure
While the debate over time of death seems settled, the cause of Ryan Kereluk’s death isn’t as solid. Ladham, the doctor responsible for conducting the autopsy on Kereluk, ran multiple tests after learning Kereluk drank more than 40 glasses of water in 12.5 hours before passing away.
Test results showed nothing out of the ordinary, however, leading Ladham to believe that excessive water consumption did not lead to Kereluk’s death.
Instead, Ladham said methamphetamine toxicity was the most likely reason. Toxicology reports showed Kereluk’s methamphetamine level was “within a fatal range,” and Ladham said nothing else could account for the death.
However, some of the first responders who tended to Kereluk at the police station weren’t so sure. Detillieux told the inquest she’s answered numerous calls where patients have died from methamphetamine, and in her opinion, Kereluk’s death was not consistent with them.