Ontario family calls for inquest after son with disabilities dies at school for the blind

WATCH ABOVE: Parents say Samuel Brown’s death at W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind in February 2018 could have been prevented. Kamil Karamali reports.

An Ontario family is pushing for a coroner’s inquest into the death of their son 18-year-old Samuel Brown while he was attended a provincially run school for the blind in Brantford.

“He was so loving, so full of laughter and so full of patience,” Andrea Brown, Samuel’s mother, told Global News.

“Whenever you see Samuel you see life because he brings so much love and so much joy.”

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Her son, who was also deaf, attended W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind from the age of four until his death in February 2018, weeks shy of his 19th birthday.

“It was very shocking to us,” said Samuel’s father, Gladstone Brown.

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“He was very healthy, he was a vibrant young man… and to see that we sent our son where they’re supposed to take care of him … its very frustrating to us that we don’t have an answer.”

Andrea said she will never forget the day she got the call on Feb. 8 from the school, advising that her son was acting “irritated” and reluctant to get up for dinner. She asked for a follow-up phone call that day, but the family said no one from the school called with an update on Samuel.

She said the school called her and her husband the next day to tell them they were trying to wake up their son, but that he was “unresponsive.”

READ MORE: Brantford school and province reach settlement in class-action suit

“They didn’t tell me at the time that he passed. But I said to the lady who was talking to me, ‘Is there something you’re not telling me?'” recalled Andrea.

The school asked the parents to take a taxi to Brantford from Brampton.

Andrea said it was only when she asked specifically if her son had passed did staff from the school admit that Samuel had died.

The family’s lawyer, Saron Gebresellassi, said a preliminary report offers little detail on the cause of death and how staff responded to Samuel’s behaviour.

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“All it would’ve taken is one from phone call from the administrators to the parents or one phone call to Brantford hospital, which is five minutes away, in my opinion,” said Gebresellassi.

“That’s all it would’ve taken to prevent this fatality.”

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The preliminary investigation was conducted by Dr. June Rogers of the Ministry of Education. The report provided to Global News stated that the night before Samuel died, he felt “tired and congested.”

The report added Samuel’s temperature was normal, but his breathing continued to sound congested the night before he died.

A Coroner’s investigation said an autopsy shows that Samuel died from natural causes, but Gebresellassi and the teen’s family aren’t happy with that conclusion.

“He was a healthy, young person,” said Gebresellassi.

READ MORE: $325 million lawsuit filed for alleged abuse at Ontario schools for the deaf

“His own family doctor was shocked when she learned about the fatality. He was healthy, he was expected to have a long life expectancy.

“Right now, the exclusive and sole vision is for the coroner’s inquest.”

Gebresellassi said she went to Hamilton on Tuesday to make direct contact with the regional supervising coroner, Dr. Karen Schiff, to push for an inquiry into Samuel’s death.

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The Office of the Chief Coroner told Global News that staff aren’t “contemplating” an inquest in Samuel’s death “at this time.”

“If the parents believe that an inquest would serve the public interest, they are welcome to contact the regional Supervising Coroner, Dr. Karen Schiff, to detail their reasons, in accordance with section 26 of the Coroners Act and their views will be duly considered,” the statement said.

READ MORE: Ontario says it has ‘no plans’ to close schools for special needs students

This isn’t the first time W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind has been in the spotlight for it’s alleged treatment of its students. An $8-million settlement was reached in 2017 in a class-action lawsuit launched by the school, accusing the province of being negligent in the management and operation of the school, resulting in physical, sexual, and mental abuse and harm to the former students.

The Ontario government denied the claims.

Meanwhile, the Brown family hopes a formal inquest to get to the bottom of Samuel’s death and to prevent similar events at schools serving vulnerable children.

“My message to the Government of Ontario is that we should not make another family go through this,” Gladstone told Global News..

“This can be stopped, we can put a stop to this right now.”

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— With files from The Canadian Press

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