CO inquest: not if, but when

The Yukon coroner's office specializes in death, but it's actually in the business of "protecting the living." So says the website where it spells out its place in the world.

The Yukon coroner’s office specializes in death, but it’s actually in the business of “protecting the living.”

So says the website where it spells out its place in the world.

Although its work doesn’t seem to be as action-packed as Da Vinci’s Inquest often made it out to be, it does play a vital role in the well-being of Yukoners.

It’s the chief coroner who decides whether to hold an inquest when a person dies under unusual circumstances.

Such an inquiry is not held to cast blame, but to dissect what happened and to figure out how best to prevent similar deaths in the future.

The horrific death of Raymond Silverfox in police cells warranted an inquest.

Another is planned to look at the tragic drowning of RCMP Const. Michael Potvin in the Stewart River.

But as for the shocking deaths of five people, who were poisoned by carbon monoxide in their rented Porter Creek house in January, the coroner’s office says it’s still deciding.

The bodies of Bradley Rusk, 45, his wife Valerie, 37, their two children, Gabriel, 13, and Rebekah, 11 and their boarder, Donald McNamee, 47, were discovered by a family friend one cold Sunday morning.

News of their deaths rocked the territory.

Not just because they died needlessly, but because what happened at 1606 Centennial St. could have happened anywhere. And it still could.

The fire marshal has ruled the deaths were accidental. He put the blame on the chimney – it was blocked at the top with ice and the bottom with debris which prevented the noxious fumes from escaping.

Autopsy results from three of the five bodies showed extremely high levels of carbon monoxide.

Still, a myriad of questions remain and Yukoners deserve to know what happened.

Were there problems with the furnace? With the chimney? With the combination of the two?

Had the system been recently checked and maintained? If so, when and by whom?

What is proper maintenance?

In a rental situation, who makes sure the work is done and who picks up the tab – the landlord or the tenant?

What about carbon monoxide detectors? Should they be mandatory? Why aren’t they?

And what of the flu-like symptoms suffered by all five in the days before their death? Did anyone suspect carbon monoxide poisoning? Did they seek help?

And the list goes on.

Clearly there were failures in this case.

An inquest could ferret out much-needed answers and put them on the public record for all to see. And to examine. And to learn from.

It should not be a question of whether or not an inquest needs to be held.

It should simply be a matter of when.

And the sooner the better.

Preferably before another winter season sets in.

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