Family calling for inquest into teen's death at Brantford school for the blind

The family of a teen who who died at a provincially-run school for the blind in Brantford is calling for a coroner's inquest to uncover the "truth" of how he died, amid what they describe as "conflicting" reports.

Family of Samuel Brown say they want to find the 'truth' among 'conflicting' reports

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

The family of a teen who who died at a provincially-run school for the blind in Brantford is calling for a coroner's inquest to uncover the "truth" of how he died, amid what they describe as "conflicting" reports.

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

The 18-year-old, who was deaf and blind and non-verbal, was fine Sunday evening when the Brampton family put him on a bus to the school where lived and studied from the age of four, said Brown. But on Thursday they got a call from the school saying he wouldn't get up for supper.

Samuel died sometime overnight, said his mother.

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

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

'Samuel was our life'

The Brown family has fought for answers, but said preliminary coroner's reports and the results of an autopsy offer conflicting causes of death.

One describes the cause of death as aspiration, while a coroner's statement says it was natural causes, said Saron Gebresellassi, the lawyer representing the teen's estate. 

The family has also received an autopsy report that doesn't include the words "natural causes," she added.

"As of right now we have three completely different causes of death, conflicting reports."

'Samuel was our life'

Brown describes her son as a "warm" person.

"He was born with a disability, but that did not say he wasn't a human being," she said. "Samuel was our life. He was full of laughter."

The school, which answers to the Ministry of Eduction, instead of an area school board, did not provide the family with any updates beside the Feb. 8 call saying Samuel missed dinner and call the next day saying he was unresponsive, said Brown.

Saron Gebresellassi speaks about the death of Samuel Brown during a visit in Hamilton Tuesday. She says a coroner's inquest is the only way to get answers about the teen's death. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

His sudden death came as a shock to the family. Brown describes what happened as "very, very disturbing."

The principal for the school said he was unable to comment on Samuel's death, instead directing CBC News to contact the Ministry of Education, which in turn forwarded the request to the Ministry of the Solicitor General, which then told a reporter to reach out to the Coroner's office.

The provincial coroner's office did not immediately respond to CBC News, but told the Canadian Press it currently does not have any plans to open an inquest.

'We all want justice'

Gebresellassi said the family has raised the possibility of an inquest with the coroner's office in the past.

The lawyer said they sent a letter and made a request for an inquest during a teleconference, but Tuesday marked the first, formal request for a meeting between the regional coroner in Hamilton and the Browns.

When Gebresellassi, the Browns and a group of about 20 supporters arrived at the coroner's office in Hamilton they found the door locked.

Repeated knocks at the door went unanswered.

The lawyer said she spoke with someone in the office less than an hour before the group arrived, who told her they could drop off their paperwork. Instead, they ended up sliding an information package under the door.

Gebresellassi slides an information packet about Samuel Brown's death under the door of the regional coroner's office in Hamilton after finding it locked during a visit Tuesday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

"Samuel Brown died at the school, under the care of the province of Ontario … and frankly it's even a bit shocking that we're in a position of having to ask for a coroner's inquest," said Gebresellassi.

"These children at W. Ross Macdonald are very vulnerable, we're really, really concerned."

In a media release, the lawyer also pointed to the fact that W. Ross Macdonald previously settled a class action lawsuit brought by former students who raised "harrowing allegations of psychological degradation, physical violence, and abuse." 

For her part, Brown said she sees an inquest as the only way her family will finally get answers.

"We're still just guessing," she explained. "Everybody wants to know the truth and we all want justice for Samuel."

with files from the Canadian Press