Edmonton·Exclusive

'My brother's body was desecrated': Family traumatized by body-dragging incident

Nothing could have prepared the family of Bryce Sather for the shock of seeing a video of him in a body bag being dragged along the floor of a semi-trailer parked outside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta.

CBC News video shows body dragged at Alberta chief medical examiner’s office

The body of Bryce Sather, 25, was dragged from a refrigerated trailer last month outside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta (OCME). (Submitted by Raymond Pizzey)

Bryce Sather had been in and out of hospital for years as he awaited a kidney transplant.

His family was prepared when the 25-year-old Calgary man quietly died in his sleep last month in Edmonton.

Nothing, however, could have prepared them for the shock of seeing a CBC News video of him in a body bag being dragged along the floor of a semi-trailer parked outside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta (OCME). 

"I feel like my brother's body was desecrated and I have to live with that for the rest of my life," Raymond Pizzey said in an interview.

"It was just disgusting to see the way they could show the lack of care or empathy towards someone's deceased family member," Pizzey said.

"Treating them worse than dead cattle. Dragging them across the floor. Just no respect, no dignity. It just hurt. No one wants to see their family like that."

The brother of a man who was dragged in a body bag on the floor of a semi-trailer rented for storage by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta expresses his hurt and outrage at his brother's treatment. 0:43

Alberta Justice launched an investigation in September after CBC News recorded a video of a funeral home employee dragging a body in a bag from a refrigerated trailer rented by the chief medical examiner's office for temporary storage.

The body, now known to be Sather, was among 17 in the trailer, its interior clearly visible from a nearby street.

On the video, the funeral home employee grabs the foot end of the body bag with both hands and shuffles backwards, dragging the body on the back, about half the trailer's length.

After climbing down a ladder, the employee then repeatedly tugs on the body to slide it onto an elevated gurney as an OCME staff member watches. 

Family distraught over brother's treatment

In an interview a day after his brother's funeral in Calgary, a distraught Raymond Pizzey said that over the past six years, Sather had spent long stretches in hospital as he struggled with kidney disease.

A funeral home employee drags a bag containing Sather's body out of a refrigerated trailer at the OCME. (Sam Martin/CBC)

With both kidneys removed, he had been on dialysis for the past year and was on a transplant waiting list. He also had cardiovascular disease, auto-immune deficiency and blood clots in his feet that prevented him from working. 

"He knew he didn't have a whole lot of time left to live and he did as much as he could," Pizzey said. "He just went to California last month. He paid for our little brother to go with him. He just always wanted to do things for people the best he could. He was supposed to be a groomsman at my wedding next year."

Pizzey said that despite his brother's health struggles, Sather always thought of others first: "If you were in a bad mood he always puts you in a good mood."

Treatment of body 'disheartening'

Pizzey said Sather was visiting in Edmonton when he fell ill. He checked himself into hospital. He was released from the hospital on Sept. 3 and died at 4:30 the following morning.

After the autopsy, the family arranged for the McInnis and Holloway funeral home to transport Sather's body to Calgary, where the brothers had grown up. 

A funeral home employee collected the body on Sept. 9. CBC News broadcast the video two days later.

The funeral home employee was clearly identifiable in the video. 

"To see the body pulled on the floor, as opposed to being carried or moved onto a stretcher, was very disheartening," said Jeff Hagel, operations manager for McInnis and Holloway.

"[It] definitely went against all of our core values and our commitment to families to care for the deceased with the utmost compassion."

Jeff Hagel, operations manager at the McInnis and Holloway funeral home in Calgary, says Alberta's chief medical examiner personally apologized to him over the incident. (Dave Rae/CBC)

Hagel said he contacted the chief medical examiner's office and they decided the body should be examined to ensure it had not been harmed. 

Alberta's chief medical examiner, Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim, travelled from Edmonton. She and a Calgary pathologist examined the body and confirmed it had not been damaged.

In addition to recording the video, CBC News had also obtained internal OCME emails that revealed a staff member raised concerns with Brooks-Lim about the propriety of storing bodies in a trailer.

In a Sept. 5 email, a staff person told Brooks-Lim that if bodies were to be stored on the semi-trailer floor, "I feel that this might not be something that families will find acceptable. How do I approach this when speaking to families?"

In an email distributed to all OCME staff, Brooks-Lim responded: "The floor is clean, the bodies will be in body bags and the families do not need to be informed of the storage procedures."

Chief medical examiner personally apologized

Hagel said Brooks-Lim also travelled from Edmonton the day the youngest brother, 21-year-old Isaac Sather, went to the Calgary funeral home to identify the body.

Hagel said he and Brooks-Lim "apologized in person" to Isaac Sather and answered any of his questions.

"It was a very difficult conversation," Hagel said in a later interview, "one that I've never experienced in all my years in funeral service. And the family was very, very shocked to learn of everything."

To ensure it never happens again, Hagel said he has spoken to the employee and distributed the video to all his staff.

"Caring for the deceased is at the core of all of our values of everything that we do and so we are all sick about this," he said.

'Shouldn't just be swept away'

Through a spokesperson, Brooks-Lim and Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer declined an interview request.

In a previous emailed statement, Alberta Justice did not answer questions from CBC News about when its investigation would be completed or if its findings would be released.

Pizzey said his family and the public deserve answers.

"This could be anybody: it could be your daughter, it could be your wife, could be your grandma, your mom. It shouldn't just be swept away like it was nothing."

If you have information about this story, or information for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca.

Follow us on Twitter: @charlesrusnell @jennierussell_

About the Author

Charles Rusnell, Jennie Russell

Investigative reporters

Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell are reporters with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Their journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. @charlesrusnell @jennierussell_