The Coroners Inquest looking in to the death of Ronalda Wescoup heard from five witnesses during its first day of hearings at the Coronet Hotel in Prince Albert Monday.

Wescoup died in June of 2019 while she was in custody at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert. The inquiry heard this morning she died due to alcohol withdrawl.

The first witness to take the stand was Constable Brett Robillard an investigator with the Prince Albert Police Service Major Crimes Unit. Robillard explained P.A. Police were contacted by the provincial coroner about the death and were tasked with investigating. The police officer said through his investigation he determined Wescoup was arrested in Saskatoon and transported to P.A. after being remanded into custody. When taken into custody Wescoup was intoxicated and apparently told people who she was being transported with that she wasn’t feeling well. During intake, Robillard testified Wescoup told staff she had been drinking every day for the past five months.

Robillard added during the coarse of his investigation he didn’t find any signs of trauma which could have led to Wescoup’s death nor did video he looked of her while she was in custody show her walking in an unusual way.

The second witness called to the stand was Pamela Huyter a correctional officer responsible for properly classifying inmates coming in to the Pine Grove facility. Huyter testified she had come across Wescoup before in the past and said that like many women who come into the jail Wescoup had substance abuse issues. Huyter explained Wescoup dry heaved on two occasions during the classification process. However, Huyter said Wescoup didn’t appear to have any problems speaking or walking.

The inquest as well heard from the corrections officer who along with a nurse discovered Wescoup unconscious in her cell. Stacey Lajeunesse testified she was asked to check on Wescoup to make sure she was moving and breathing. Lajeunesse said she knocked on the cell door and called Wescoup’s name through a slot in the door and got no response. Lajeunesse was eventually joined by a nurse who had the key to the cell door and the two went in and began providing medical help to Wescoup which included doing chest compressions until the ambulance arrived.

Heidi Huziek, who was working as a paramedic in June of 2019, testified she and her partner arrived at the women’s correctional centre at 8:26 p.m. that evening. Huziek explained when paramedics took over they did not detect a heartbeat and shocked the patient once. Huziek, who drove the ambulance to the hospital, said she did not see any signs of life when she was treating Wescoup.

Another witness who the inquest heard from was Dr. Olanrewaju Egbeyemi, who along with other doctors in his practice is responsible for providing care to inmates at Pine Grove. Dr. Egbeyemi testified he was contacted via phone by nurses about Wescoup’s condition. The doctor said the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment Alcohol Scale (CIWA), a test used to asses the severity of alcohol withdraw indicated a score of 21 for Wescoup. This would normally lead to a patient being transferred to hospital for treatment, however Egbeyemi said Wescoup’s vital signs were normal. He said he instead directed nurses to redo the test. A lawyer representing the Elizabeth Fry Society asked the doctor if he remembered being contacted a second time with a test which provided a similar CIWA score as the first one, Egbeyemi testified he only recalled hearing about one test number from nurses at the jail.

The inquest is set to resume tomorrow morning and hear from five more witnesses. The inquest jury consisting of two men and four women may make recommendations to avoid similar deaths in the future. The goal of a Coroners Inquest is not to assign blame but establish who died and where and under what conditions.

(File Photo: MBC Radio News)