New details into death of Ontario teen at school for the blind released on three-year anniversary
The parents of Samuel Brown are seen in this undated photograph beside their lawyer Saron Gebresellass.
TORONTO -- It's been three years since the mysterious death of an Ontario teenager at a provincially run school for the blind and his family says despite new details, they still have questions left unanswered.
Samuel Brown died at the age of 18 on Feb. 9, 2018 while attending W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont. The teenager, who was born with a genetic condition that left him blind and deaf, would live on campus during the week and return home on the weekends.
Last year, a lawyer for the family spoke about conflicting reports from medical officials on how Brown died. A coroner's report said he died of natural causes, but an autopsy requested by the family concluded he died of pneumonia.
“We’re looking for, in this, an understanding of how could a situation like this happen when you trust others with your loved ones,” his mother, Andrea Brown, said in a pre-recorded statement released on Tuesday.
“We know that it’s taken a lot of time for this journey to come to the end, but we believe that we will get the justice that is being demanded of this matter.”
Speaking on Tuesday morning, Lawyer Saron Gebresellassi said that there had been a “breakthrough” in the investigation and that new details were available about the morning Samuel Brown died.
“There is no longer the mystery that once was here three years ago,” Gebresellassi said.
“In the ambulance report it demonstrates that he essentially choked on his own vomit and that would be not terminal or fatal for other people …. but for someone who does not have mobility, who’s so vulnerable, who depends on adults to monitor him, it will be terminal.”
Brown’s parents were notified a day before their son died that he was refusing to get out of bed for dinner.
The next morning, they received a call saying that Brown had been found unresponsive in his room.
According to the ambulance report, which was provided to CTV News Toronto by Gebresellass with the permission of the family, staff noted that at around 5 a.m., during an hourly check, Brown was experiencing laboured breathing. The report said staff found the teen unresponsive an hour later, around 6 a.m., with vomit in his airway.
“They rolled him into a recovery position and called 911,” the report said.
Brantford Fire was the first on scene, and emergency crews conducted CPR until paramedics arrived. Brown was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
“Samuel was a strong and quiet child, very loving, kind, very patient, very joyful and Samuel’s smile can never leave your heart,” his mother said. “But the misfortune that took place, that took Samuel away from us, we are on a journey with it.”
“Every day I still go to Samuel’s room, to look in Samuel’s room, thinking that one day I will still see him come home to me, but unfortunately, it’s three years and it’s still not happened.”
Andrea Brown added that the internal findings related to her son’s death have allowed the family to “hold up their head knowing that the mystery is over.”
“But, the process and the journey is still going on,” she said. “We’re waiting on dates to come to bring this to a jury trial case so that we can even get a better clarification.”
On May 19, 2020, the Ontario coroner’s office agreed to execute an inquest into Samuel Brown’s death, but months later Gebresellassi says that no further information has been provided regarding the inquest.
“With deep regrets I cannot satisfy the public of any date in this matter,” she told reporters, adding that if this were a criminal case, the delay in the trial would be considered unconstitutional.
“We are imploring our system stakeholders to rely on innovation and to ensure that this can get before a jury expeditiously.”
Gebresellassi said an inquest would be able to render a final verdict on Brown’s cause of death and would generate recommendations to prevent future pediatric fatalities.
“This is not a tragedy just for the Brown family,” Gebresellassi said. “This is a tragedy for Ontario. It's too late for the Brown family, still this battle is to increase protections for other young people in Ontario, and it’s now in your hands, the hands of the community.”