B.C. family wants inquest in mysterious 2011 overdose death of son
WARNING: This story contains graphic content
A Chilliwack, B.C., couple is demanding an inquest into their 38-year-old son's death eight years ago, saying they doubt initial reports that he died of a drug and alcohol overdose.
Instead, Gladys and Ed Scherbey wonder if their son Corey, who they described as a hard-working logger and father, may have met with foul play.
They hired their own investigator who suspects he might have been strangled.
In the years since Corey Scherbey's death, the RCMP have apologized for how they investigated his death. As well, two B.C. Supreme Court judges have ordered the Solicitor General's office to take another look at the case and consider holding a formal inquest.
Despite these developments, the case has stalled.
"It destroyed our family," said Gladys Scherbey, who says her grandson, Riley, was just 12 when he lost his father.
Gladys Scherbey found her son's decomposing body at his Chilliwack home on Aug. 22, 2011.
Her son's head was stuffed between two pillows and he was kneeling and slumped over a couch in his house in a pool of dark fluid that looked like blood.
"She couldn't even recognize her own son," said Ed Scherbey.
RCMP first investigated the death as a homicide, but in 2014, the coroner determined that Corey Scherbey had died of an accidental overdose and the case was closed.
A pathologist ruled that Scherbey died of acute combined cocaine and alcohol intoxication.
The Scherbeys were shocked, and had difficulty believing their son died from an overdose. They say their son, a logger who had also worked on oil rigs and had dabbled in property investment, didn't even like to take aspirin.
But there was evidence Corey Scherbey was a recreational drug user, according to forensic reports.
Still, the Scherbeys believed the RCMP ignored evidence, and they filed a formal complaint about the investigation in 2012.
They are convinced their son's death was no accident and want information about a woman who was with their son the last time his father saw him.
On Aug. 19, 2011, Ed Scherbey stopped by his son's house with hamburgers, but he left when he saw his son had female company, and it wasn't his long-time girlfriend.
Just 96 hours later, his son was found dead.
The Scherbeys say there were indications from the outset that their son's death was suspicious. They said there was blood spatter and footprints at the scene did not make sense.
They spent two years using the Access to Information Act to get a copy of the case file and then hired a U.S. forensic expert and medical doctor, Dr. Christopher Green, to write an independent report.
In 2016, Green concluded their son likely died as a result of "homicidal smothering or strangulation." Green's report said the toxicology reports did not reveal much cocaine, and suggested the "abnormal" accelerated rate of decomposition could better be explained by strangulation.
While Green says Scherbey did use cocaine, he said, initially, the coroner told family he did not use enough to overdose.
Investigation 'not reasonably thorough'
Green also noted that the woman who was with Scherbey the night he died was never found. As well, there were reports that other people were in the house but this was never confirmed.
Police, in a later report, said the woman who was seen with Scherbey may have been a sex worker.
Green also pointed to an odd warning from a potential witness who also suspected foul play. But said that that witness later died under "suspicious circumstances."
In late 2018, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki wrote to the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission in response to the complaint the family had filed in 2012.
She had reviewed the case and agreed with the commission's finding that the initial investigation into the sudden death was "not reasonably thorough," she wrote.
Lucki ordered the Chilliwack RCMP detachment to apologize.
Meanwhile, the Scherbeys have personally amassed 54 binders full of untouched evidence. A researcher who has helped the family since he was a law student, says the pathologist's ruling that Corey died of an overdose doesn't add up.
The researcher, Jeremy Maddock, says a formal coroner's inquest would shed light on unanswered questions.
"The cause of death given by the pathologist who performed the autopsy does not answer all the questions that the family has — and we are asking for an inquest to determine whether this was a suffocation or a smothering, which is what the medical evidence suggests it could be," Maddock said.
For years, the family petitioned the coroner's office to reopen the case. In 2017, they applied under the Coroner's Act, requesting that the minister of Public Safety order the coroner to hold an inquest.
The minister refused, so they turned to the courts, asking for a judicial review of the minister's decision.
In 2018, Justice John Steeves in Victoria called for a review of the case, and the next year, Justice Jennifer Power, also in Victoria, urged the Solicitor General reconsider if it is "necessary or desirable in the public interest that an inquest be held."
In B.C., unlike Yukon for example, the courts can't directly order an inquest. Only the chief coroner or Solicitor General can. Ultimately, the decision rests with Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
In a written statement, Farnworth said his office is reviewing the case, but no decision has been reached on whether to call an inquest.
"Any death of a loved one is difficult to endure," the statement said, adding his office is aware that a court has ordered that there be "further consideration as to whether an inquest should be held."