'My son's not breathing': Father made frantic 911 call before toddler's meningitis death
David Stephan declined offer of ambulance for ailing 19-month-old
The father of a toddler who died of bacterial meningitis called 911 because his son wasn't breathing but declined an offer of an ambulance, an Alberta court heard Tuesday.
David and Collet Stephan are accused of failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel in 2012.
Although unusual in everyday parlance, the word "necessaries" — not "necessities" — is the term the legal system uses.
The couple initially treated him with herbal and natural remedies instead of taking him to a doctor.
This is the second trial for the Stephans. A jury found them guilty in 2016, but the Supreme Court overturned the convictions last year and ordered a new trial. This one is before a judge alone.
A frantic 911 call from David Stephan was played in court as part of the Crown's case.
"My son's not breathing," said Stephan, who struggled to give the operator an address that her computer would recognize.
"My son has stopped breathing. He's not choking. He's been sick for a little while here."
I told her to get him to emergency right away.- Tracey Tannis, naturopath
The operator, Carroll Moore, asked Stephan if he was performing CPR. He replied that his wife was.
"He's breathing a little bit better right now," Stephan said. "He's doing it on his own."
Stephan added that his son had had croup for a week but overcame it.
The father said he would call 911 again if there was a problem.
"If you need us you call us back, OK?" said the operator.
Moore testified that there was an ambulance available in nearby Glenwood, Alta., but since the Stephans declined one, a request did not go to a dispatcher.
David Stephan, who is acting as his own lawyer, asked Moore if it isn't protocol that an ambulance be automatically dispatched when a child has stopped breathing to make sure everything is all right.
"Is that fair to say that is the case?" asked Stephan.
"That would be the case if the caller didn't decline the ambulance," Moore replied.
"So you take instructions from the individual on the line?" asked Stephan.
"Correct," Moore responded.
"In a situation like this you didn't see it necessary to provide guidance to myself on the phone?" said Stephan.
"We didn't get to that stage. You struggled so much with the address [that)] by the time we found the location for the house you said the baby was breathing," Moore answered.
Testimony of naturopath
The first witness Tuesday was a naturopath from Lethbridge, Alta., who testified that she recommended the Stephans take their child to emergency.
Tracey Tannis told court that Collet Stephan had called her clinic and told an assistant she was concerned her son had viral meningitis. Viral meningitis can be less severe than bacterial meningitis, but it is still considered a serious illness.
Tannis said she told the assistant to advise the mother to take the child to emergency.
"I told her to get him to emergency right away because viral meningitis is deadly," Tannis said
A few days later, the clinic sold an echinacea tincture, an herbal remedy, to Collet.
Tannis said she doesn't remember actually talking to Collet Stephan when she came into the clinic, but she does remember giving the advice.
"It just resonates in my mind because that's a difficult infection."
Defence lawyer Shawn Buckley suggested the naturopath only recommended the child see a doctor and that Tannis "reconstructed" her story after the boy died.
After Ezekiel died, the Stephans moved from Glenwood, Alta., to Nelson, B.C., with their three other boys. They now live in Grande Prairie, Alta.