Inquest into in-custody death begins in Fort St. John

Over the next three days, it’s the responsibility of a seven person jury to determine his cause of death and make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future, but it will not make any findings of legal responsibility. Lohouse’s autopsy found that alcohol contributed in part to his death, and a high blood alcohol was registered, and Inquest Counsel Rodrick H. Mackenzie pointed out that officers did not know how long prior he had stopped drinking. 

He was booked by Constable Brett Cunningham around 5:35 p.m. for a criminal offence, and placed in what’s referred to as a “drunk tank” cell to sober up as he was intoxicated. However, officers and guards who dealt with him testified that he seemed only “modestly” intoxicated, and that he was cooperative with police. 

One guard, Josephine Fornelli, had watched over Lohouse several times prior and said, “Mr. Lohouse was soberer than any other time I guarded him,” explaining that he had previously been belligerent and yelling when being brought in for drunkenness. She did note that his face was flush and she could smell alcohol on him, although he was able to walk straight. The guard at the time of his booking, Donald Stubberfield, adds that while he noticed Lohouse’s cooperation, he felt he couldn’t draw a conclusion as to how intoxicated he was, as everyone handles alcohol differently. 

This afternoon the jury watched a closed circuit television recording of the booking desk and Lohouse’s cell, where they could see the prisoner immediately lie down in the corner of the room. Fornelli says she could hear him snoring during her checks at least every 15 minutes, when he wasn’t asking how much longer he had until he could be moved to a cell with a bed and blanket. 

It wasn’t until shortly after 9 p.m. that she could no longer see his torso through the viewing window to tell whether he was breathing as he’d shifted, so she asked Corporal Sasha Fasenko, the watch commander at the time, to wake and move him. That’s when he was found unresponsive and Fornelli was instructed to call the paramedics while the officer performed CPR. The Fire Department and B.C. Ambulance responded shortly, but were unable to revive Lohouse. 

The jury will hear more from the first responders tomorrow, along with a forensic pathologist, forensic toxicologist and the coroner.