A Northwest Territories coroner's inquest has begun into the death of Raymond Eagle, a Yellowknife homeless man who had been in a coma for almost 3½ years.

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Muriel Eagle, left, holds a high school photo of her son, Raymond, who died in January 2010 after spending more than three years in a coma. Raymond's sister Margaret, right, is at a coroner's inquest this week in Yellowknife. ((CBC))

Eagle, 48, slipped into a coma in August 2006, hours after he had been found at a Yellowknife trailer park with head injuries. Eagle never recovered from the coma and he died in January 2010.

The week-long coroner's inquest began in Yellowknife Monday with testimony from a taxi driver who discovered Eagle lying on the middle of the road at the Northlands Trailer Park early in the morning of Aug. 3, 2006.

The taxi driver testified that Eagle looked like he was beaten up — there was blood in his hair and a large lump over his eye — but he otherwise appeared conscious, albeit clearly intoxicated.

The driver testified that an RCMP officer who arrived on the scene did not ask about Eagle's condition.

Taken into police custody

Eagle was taken by ambulance to Stanton Territorial Hospital, but an hour later hospital staff said he could be released, the inquest heard.

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Raymond Eagle in hospital with his father, Tom Eagle, in 2007. ((CBC))

Eagle was brought to RCMP detachment cells to sober up, but about 10 hours later he began vomiting blood and ended up in a coma.

Margaret Eagle, Raymond's sister, asked the RCMP officer if he had told the detachment guard on duty about Eagle's medical condition or the potential that he had a head injury. The officer said he did not recall.

The coroner's inquest panel overseeing this week's hearing will try to determine the circumstances that led to Eagle's death, as well as come up with recommendations to ensure similar deaths can be prevented.

Eagle had struggled with alcohol and ended up homeless on the streets of Yellowknife, according to his family.

The inquest will find out, in part, who released Eagle from hospital and why it took so long for him to get treatment.

"Members of the family continue to express frustration," Margaret Eagle told CBC News on Friday.

"Who wants to deal with somebody that, you know, has pungent smells about them because they haven't showered or bathed themselves in a while? They treated him, but how well did they treat him?"