Social worker takes stand in trial for southern Alberta parents accused in toddler’s death
On Tuesday, testimony began with a social worker who was at the Alberta Children’s Hospital when 18-month-old Ezekiel was airlifted by STARS Air Ambulance.
She said that night was her only involvement with David and Collet Stephan and that they were very cooperative.
David Stephan, 32, and his wife Collet Stephan, 35, have pleaded not guilty to failing to provide the necessities of life for 18-month-old Ezekiel, who died of meningitis in March 2012.
The social worker testified that, as a social worker, her job was to determine if the Stephans’ older child was at any risk and, when asked if he showed the same symptoms as Ezekiel, to find out what they would do. She said the couple told her they would be taking him to a doctor.
She testified the Stephans had no previous history with Child and Family Services and the file was closed rather quickly.
The third Crown witness also took the stand: Registered Nurse and midwife Terry Meynders. Meynders assisted Collet in her home births.
She said Collet was a good friend and when Collet called and asked for her to come look at Ezekiel’s condition on March 12 because he might have croup, she went. Meynders said Collet told her the toddler had fallen asleep in the bath tub and that concerned her.
The RN testified that when she arrived at the Stephans’ home, Ezekiel was sleeping. Without waking him, she gave him an exam, checking his physical appearance and listening to his lungs, but nothing appeared abnormal, she said. She suggested to Collet it could be meningitis and said, “I have no idea what it could be and I think you should take him to a doctor.”
Meynders also said she was there as a friend to give her opinion, not to diagnose Ezekiel. She said it didn’t jump out to her that he was seriously ill and he didn’t appear to be that sick.
On Monday, the Crown said the parents should have got Ezekiel medical attention long before he stopped breathing.
In his opening statement, Crown Prosecutor Clayton Giles said, “the jury needs to answer this question: at what point should the accused have taken Ezekiel to the doctor?”
“I’m not saying they killed him, abused him or ignored him—they loved him,” he said. “They didn’t take him to a doctor until it was too late—far too late.”
The first witness to take the stand was an RCMP officer who interviewed the couple separately at the Alberta Children’s Hospital while Ezekiel was on life support.
As part of his testimony, an audio recording was played of the officer’s interview with Collet.
In the interview, she said about two weeks prior, her son had a runny nose, fever and was having trouble breathing. She said she looked up his symptoms online and thought it might be croup (a respiratory infection). She then began giving him as much natural product as possible. She said he started to improve for a few days, but then became weak and lethargic again.
Collet said she called a registered nurse to come check his condition, who suggested it may be meningitis.
Collet said she and David visited a naturopathic doctor in Lethbridge who gave them a treatment for viral meningitis, but never actually examined Ezekiel.
The parents gave Ezekiel the treatment and Collet told RCMP they saw improvement right away, but after a nap he woke up and didn’t seem as alert.
He quit breathing, prompting Collet to start CPR. David called 911, and the couple started to drive to meet the ambulance. Collet said he quit breathing a few times during the drive and started to turn blue. The couple then met the ambulance and the paramedics took over.
In the afternoon, the jury heard a similar interview between David and RCMP.
The trial in Lethbridge is being heard by a jury of eight women and four men.
The Crown will continue to call witnesses on Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to continue until March 24.
With files from CJOC
*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published March 7 and was updated with the testimony given on Tuesday, March 8.
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