The first day of a coroner’s inquest into the death of an 88-year-old man at a Chilliwack seniors’ home centred on his battle with memory and hearing loss, as well as some troubling behaviour.
Rene Vaugeois died on Sept. 23, 2015, while a resident at Cheam Village following an incident with the RCMP.
The inquest jury heard Monday that Mounties were called to the independent facility after receiving reports of a man holding a sharp object, believed to be a knife, near his stomach.
Officers arrived, got into an altercation with Vaugeois, and deployed pepper spray. The elderly man suffered apparent self-inflicted injuries, and died on the way to hospital. A Mountie was also stabbed in the leg, but injuries were minor.
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The Independent Investigations Office was called, but released jurisdiction because there was no connection between police action and the death.
Vaugeois suffered from dementia, chronic anxiety and heart issues, his long-term physician Dr. Wayne Phimister said. He also eventually lost complete hearing in his right ear, and was partially deaf in the other.
Vaugeois didn’t present self-harm or harmful tendencies leading up to his death, Phimister said, but was “just frustrated, was not being understood.”
There were “lots of things going on in his life to make him explode,” he said.
Vaugeois remembered as ‘loving’
Vaugeois’ granddaughter, Megan Griffin, recalled visiting her grandpa in Agassiz when she was a child, and the independent person she misses.
“He was just a really loving, kind man and I miss him a lot,” Griffin said.
Vaugeois had been an on-and-off resident in Agassiz, she said, in between raising his four children on Vancouver Island while working for a logging company.
He lost most of his hearing at the age of 40 – a “large obstacle for him,” and a cause of embarrassment.
In 2009, two of his sons died six months apart, and that’s when his health majorly deteriorated.
He mostly kept to himself, and moving from his home to a one-bedroom unit at a care home was a difficult transition for him. He felt like he lost his freedom, Griffith said.
Home care ended two days before death
The day he died wasn’t the first time staff at Cheam Village had to call police over Vaugeois’ behaviour.
About a week earlier, staff member Laura Letkeman was clearing dishes in the dining hall when Vaugeois lashed out a number of times in the span of a few hours.
He sat in an armchair and yelled insults to the other residents, she testified. At one point, he called her the devil.
When she intervened, he swung his fists and hit her in the chest. During another intervention, he told her he would slit her throat in her sleep.
Letkeman described his actions as not typical for what she knew of Vaugeois, and hurtful.
Police and paramedics were called, and when he refused to go to the hospital, Vaugeois was taken into custody under the Mental Health Act and admitted to Chilliwack General Hospital.
Following his release, his behaviour continued to be out of character, aggressive, and distant, according to further testimonies.
He requested several times to have dinner in his room, possibly “ashamed of his actions,” Letkeman said, and was not cooperative or receptive to the extra support he received from Fraser Health.
Two days before his death, Vaugeois’ case manager stopped the home support services – which included daily services by care aides.
The social worker who made that decision is not expected to testify in the inquest, which is set for four days, with testimony from more than a dozen other people who were involved in Vaugeois’s care.
The jury is expected to start deliberations on Thursday and make recommendations aimed at preventing a similar incident.
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