On the three-year anniversary of the death of a Brampton teenager at one of Ontario’s schools for the blind, his family’s quest for answers is being bolstered by new information about his final hours.
“Every day I still go to Samuel’s room to look in, thinking that one day I will still see him come home to me,” says mother Andrea Brown, in a statement.
Samuel Brown was deaf, blind and non-verbal. His family says the 18-year-old was healthy the last time they saw him, just days before he went back to boarding school at W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford.
The day before he died, in February 2018, the school notified his parents that he refused to get out of bed for dinner. The next morning, he was found unresponsive in his room and rushed to hospital.
“This isn’t a tragedy just for the Brown family, this is a tragedy for Ontario,” says Saron Gebresellassi, the family’s lawyer.
The family has received conflicting explanations from medical officials for his death, with both pneumonia and natural causes cited.
A new ambulance report is filling in the details of Brown’s final hours.
The report states that staff at the school were doing “hourly checks on him throughout the night” because he was “very unwell.” The report goes on to note that staff say “they last saw him at five in the morning and stated that he had very heavy and laboured breathing.”
When staff next checked on him at six a.m. they “found that he was unresponsive with vomit noted in his airway.”
“He essentially choked on his own vomit,” says Gebresellassi. “For someone who does not have mobility, who is so vulnerable, who depends on adults to monitor him, it would be terminal.”
Brown’s death is of particular concern because the same year he died, Ontario settled an $8 million class action suit against the school, brought by alumni who alleged institutional negligence. It’s not the only class-action suit the province has settled involving ministry-run schools for children with disabilities.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education, which directly oversees W. Ross Macdonald School, says it takes the safety of students seriously.
“We extend our sincere condolences to the family of Samuel Brown and the PDSB community,” says Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Minister of Education Stephen Lecce. “We take seriously the safety and well being of students attending the provincial and demonstration schools and take steps to ensure all students are safe and supported.”
After a campaign and online petition drew thousands of signatures last year, Ontario’s coroner’s office agreed to proceed with an inquest into Brown’s death. The exact date has not yet been set, and the regional supervising coroner tells CityNews that he is aiming to have it done by the end of the year.
“Inquests do take a long time and we don’t get to them as soon as we’d like to,” says Dr. David Cameron, a regional supervising coroner for inquests with Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner.
A five-person coroner’s inquest jury would examine the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death and make a final determination of cause. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing further deaths at ministry-run schools.
The Ministry of Education also says it will fully cooperate with the coroner’s inquest.
Samuel’s mother says while it’s too late for her son, she’s hopeful the inquest will ensure this tragedy never happens to anyone else’s child.
“It’s taken a lot of time for this journey to come to the end but we believe that we will get the justice that is being demanded,” she says.