Coroner to hold inquest into teen's death at Brantford school for the blind

Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner will hold an inquest into the death of Samuel Brown, a deaf and blind teen who died at a provincially-run school for the blind in Brantford.

'Everybody wants to know the truth and we all want justice,' says Samuel Brown's mother

Lawyer Saron Gebresellassi says a coroner's inquest is the only way to get answers into the teen's death. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner will hold an inquest into the death of Samuel Brown, a deaf and blind teen who died at a provincially-run school for the blind in Brantford.

It's a move the 18-year-old's family says they hope will clear up confusion about his death and provide them with answers after two years of waiting.

"We definitely want to know the truth, what really took place," said Samuel's mother Andrea Brown on Friday. "This death was so sudden."

Samuel was found unresponsive in his room at W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind on Feb. 9, 2018, according to Brown.

Samuel, who was non-verbal, was fine Sunday evening when the Brampton family put him on a bus to the school where he lived and studied from the age of four, said his mother. But that Thursday they got a call from the school saying he wouldn't get up for supper.

Samuel died sometime overnight, Brown previously told CBC.

"He was ... a healthy child and to just pass away suddenly like that without any explanation is still beyond our wildest dreams," she explained during a visit to Hamilton in September 2019.

"That left a lot of questions for us. What happened between those 12 hours?"

The family visited Hamilton along with a group of about 20 supporters as part of a tour organized by Saron Gebresellassi, the lawyer representing the teen's estate, to push for a coroner's inquest.

At that time, the Browns alleged preliminary coroner's reports and the results of an autopsy offered conflicting causes of death.

One describes the cause of death as pneumonia, while a coroner's statement says it was natural causes, said Gebresellassi during a media event she held Friday morning to announce the inquest.

"What our province needs answers to is all of the facts. A minute-to-minute breakdown of all of the events in the 12 hours leading up to the fatality," said the lawyer.

Samuel was 'full of laughter'

Ontario's Ministry of Education directed questions about the inquest to the coroner's office.

Cheryl Mahyr, a spokesperson for the coroner, confirmed Thursday that an inquest will be taking place, though a date and location have not been selected and won't be for "some time."

Gebresellassi pointed to past issues at W. Ross Macdonald, including a class-action lawsuit alleging students who attended the school between 1951 and 2012 were subjected to psychological degradation, physical violence and sexual abuse.

The plaintiffs settled that suit with the Ontario government for $8 million the day before a trial was due to begin.

The lawyer said she believes there's a "cultural problem" at the institution, adding while Samuel's death is the first fatality at the school, it's the family's goal to ensure it's the last.

Gebresellassi also described the teen's death as an example of a wider problem in Ontario when it comes to caring for those with disabilities.

"Samuel was deaf and blind so he literally didn't have a voice to call for help," she explained, saying his case is "so particularly troubling because of how reliant and dependent he was."

Andrea Brown, whose son Samuel died at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind in February 2018, called for an inquest into his death. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Brown has described her son as a warm person who was "full of laughter."

A coroner's inquest was the only way the family could stop guessing and finally learn the truth of what happened, she said.

"We were always the voice for him and we will continue to be the voice for him," said Brown. "He was a joy ... in our life and we dearly miss him."

with files from the Canadian Press