Watson Lake inquest delayed

The family of Teresa Scheunert will eventually be at a public inquest into her death. There will be lawyers, likely representation for the Yukon Hospital Corporation as well as two doctors.

The family of Teresa Scheunert will eventually be at a public inquest into her death.

There will be lawyers, likely representation for the Yukon Hospital Corporation as well as two doctors.

As of right now, the family doesn’t have anyone representing them.

“It feels like they are against us. They may not be. But that’s what it feels like,” Scheunert’s sister, Wanda Zimmerman, said yesterday.

Earlier this week, the territory’s chief corner confirmed she was delaying the inquest into the deaths of Scheunert and Mary Johnny. The two women died at the Watson Lake Hospital on separate occasions last summer.

Coroner Kirsten Macdonald said she decided to move the inquest to this summer – as opposed to the original date in March – so everyone involved could have more time.

Macdonald said the hospital corporation and the two doctors involved have applied for standing at the inquest. This means they will have access to any documents and the ability to ask questions during the inquest.

She said she “fully expects both families” to also participate.

But Zimmerman said her family can’t find a lawyer to represent them at the inquest and even if they could, would probably not be able to afford one.

“We don’t have the resources the corporation has or the government,” she said.

Without a lawyer, Zimmerman called the situation a “huge legal imbalance.”

She says no one has approached the family, who are from Alberta, to help them cover even the basic costs of coming up to Whitehorse to attend the eventual inquest.

“Everyone feels sorry that no one is doing it, but no one is doing it themselves either,” she said.

Zimmerman said she hasn’t spoken with the Johnny family, but “thinks about them every day.”

Scheunert, 47, died June 21, 2012 and Johnny, 60, died less than two months later on Aug. 9.

Johnny died of a bowel obstruction after being originally diagnosed as having alcohol withdrawal. Her death was ruled natural causes.

Macdonald’s original report ruled that Scheunert died of mixed drug toxicity.

A later patient safety review ordered by the hospital corporation contradicted that report and found that it was an irregular heartbeat that killed the registered nurse.

Now it will be up to a coroner’s jury to decide.

Zimmerman questions Macdonald’s decision to have a coroner oversee the inquest instead of a judge, which has been done for other inquests.

“I would have less reservations if a judge presided,” she said.

Macdonald said she would not oversee the case herself, but would be asking another coroner to do it instead. That could be someone from the Yukon or Outside, she said.

“Judges are judges and coroners are coroners,” she said. Macdonald pointed out that there are differences between a court case and an inquest and that coroners successfully oversee inquests in many jurisdictions.

An inquest is a public airing of facts. The jury is not responsible for finding fault. After hearing testimony, they will have the option of making recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.

Zimmerman said she and Scheunert’s two daughters would like to attend the inquest.

If they have to represent the family without a lawyer, they will, she said.

“If we have to do that we would do it with our honesty and our hearts and the facts as we understand them,” she said.

She said it’s what her sister would have wanted.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com