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Coroner's inquest into death of teen at Ontario school for blind postponed until 2022

Andrea Brown is seen with her son Samuel Brown in this photo provided by family. Andrea Brown is seen with her son Samuel Brown in this photo provided by family.

A coroner's inquest into the death of a teenager at an Ontario school for the blind has been postponed until the following year.

The inquest, which was announced exactly a week ago, was set to begin on Nov. 15 and last about five days. According to the family's lawyer, key witnesses had been lined up and family members had prepared to fly into Hamilton and Toronto to be there.

"We had everything ready," Saron Gebresellassi said. "We're going on the four year anniversary. We've been asking for a date for four years, you know, and then we got it and it's now postponed."

"It's destabilizing."

In a news release issued Tuesday, officials said the inquest will now take place in early 2022 when the inquiry can take place in-person.

"This will address concerns of accessibility voiced by the disability community as well as allow further exploration of the evidence without the constraints of a virtual environment," officials said in a statement.

No date or venue for the postponed inquest was provided. Rather, officials say those details "will be published when the information becomes available."

A spokesperson for the coroner's office added that their team is working with all parties and jurors to find a time that works for everyone.

Mother Andrea Brown, father Gladstone Brown and lawyer Saron Gebresellasi (right) are shown with a portrait of Samuel Brown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Michael YC Tseng MANDATORY CREDIT

Samuel Brown died at the age of 18 while attending W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont. The teen was born with a genetic condition that left him blind and deaf. He lived on campus during the week and returned home to see his family on the weekends.

According to an ambulance report, which was released to CTV News Toronto by the family in early 2021, Brown was experiencing laboured breathing around 5 a.m. on Feb. 9, 2018.

An hour later, staff found the teen unresponsive with vomit in his airway.

Emergency crews conducted CPR until paramedics arrived and Brown was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A day earlier his parents had been notified that Brown was not eating properly.

There have been conflicting reports from medical officials on how Brown died—a coroner's report said he died of natural causes while an autopsy requested by the family found that he died of pneumonia.

The family has long advocated for a coroner's inquest into their son's death and in May 2020 received confirmation that an inquest would take place.

Samuel Brown is seen in this image provided by family.

Gebresellassi added that while the lack of a new inquest date is disheartening, she understands the desire for an in-person setting.

"In the world of criminal law, the in-person trial is a right. You can't effectively cross-examine in Zoom," she said. "The thing is, this is not the first in-person trial. I've been a part of tons of in-person trials since the pandemic started…they're happening all over Canada."

"I know they are in a tough spot in a sense, but it's really, from my perspective, the easiest thing in the world. It takes five minutes to book a hotel."

Gebresellassi said that officials did call the family prior to the public postponement announcement to apologize for having to push back the inquest date.

"That is really important that that happened," she said. "That is definitely a step in the right direction."

In the inquest, members of the public will be able to learn more about who Brown was, Gebresellassi said, adding that the teen was known for his "non-judgemental character."

"He was really healthy and young and vibrant," she said. "He really had a good quality of life." Top Stories

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