[quote]TORONTO - Flames licked the back of his cell, a police officer fumbled with a scalding padlock, and in his last moments before being consumed by a jailhouse blaze on a First Nation reserve, Ricardo Wesley thrust his arm out his cell door searching for help, an inquest heard Thursday.
Const. Claudius Koosees broke down in sobs several times as he told of his valiant but ultimately doomed effort to save Wesley, 22, and 20-year-old Jamie Goodwin from the Jan. 8, 2006 fire in Kashechewan, a fly-in community in northern Ontario.
The coroner’s inquest into the deaths heard that the fire quickly tore through the police station devoid of a working smoke detector, fire extinguisher and sprinkler.
Koosees wept as he apologized to the victims’ families, a heartfelt plea for forgiveness that also had the five-member jury in tears.
“I’m so sorry. I can feel it,” he said, thumping his chest. “I still ask for your forgiveness. It hurts me. It’s hard for me every day.”
Wesley and Goodwin had been separately detained that day for being intoxicated.
Koosees was on the phone that afternoon about a sudden death investigation when he heard shouts of “emergency, emergency,” he testified.
He dropped the phone and ran toward the cells, where smoke was already quickly building. Another officer, visiting the detachment to assist with the death investigation, was fumbling with the lock.
Koosees grabbed the keys from him and tried the door himself, but the padlock was too hot.
“I tried to call out (for) a bolt cutter or anything. I tried,” he said, trailing off before burying his face in his hands and sobbing.
Wesley called out to him for help, Koosees said.
“I saw Ricardo stretching out his hands, wanting help,” he told the inquest.
Koosees then tried to free Goodwin, a relative who he thought of as a nephew. As Koosees tried in vain to save Goodwin, the young man told Koosees to save himself, he said.
He talked to me one last time and he said, he told me to go, to leave," Koosees said.
Those were the last words Koosees heard before he was overcome by the heavy smoke and passed out, he told the jury. His colleagues dragged him out the door and when he regained consciousness he tried to break down the back wall.
In all Koosees would try three times to save the young men, but in the end nothing would rescue Wesley and Goodwin from the fire that had engulfed the station.
Koosees spent two months in hospital, where he was treated for severe burns and he is now on disability leave.
Officers and other officials in the small community of about 1,700 had complained often to the government about the dilapidated state of the jail. Koosees said he was nearly electrocuted one time because of live wires dangling from lights. Officers had also noted the lack of heating in the cells, the holes in the floors and an absence of lights in the cells.
Former Kashechewan chief Leo Friday, who is now deputy grand chief, told the inquest earlier in the week he had tried just months before the fire to warn the federal government about the potential for just such a tragedy.
The existing police station is housed in a converted house with combustible construction and only a wooden constructed cell to hold detainees," he wrote in a letter to then-Indian affairs minister Andy Scott on Oct. 27, 2005.
“God forbid a fire would happen, detainees will suffocate or burn to death where they sit.”
I just had to post this to convey me sense of loss and disgust. What kind of crime merits being burned alive? :fume: Any of the staff or people could have simply gone to the store and purchased a battery operated smoke detector.
They need to just admit that they are cheap bastards and could give a rats ass about human life. Sure they are in jail, but do they deserve to be burned alive?