'We lost a sister,' friends say of woman who died after getting stuck in donation box
A woman who died after becoming trapped in a donation box in the city's Bloorcourt Village neighbourhood early Tuesday morning often went to retrieve items to share with others, according to a friend.
Toronto police said the woman was heard by witnesses screaming for help shortly before 2 a.m. after she became trapped in a clothing donation box behind a building near Bloor Street and Dovercourt Road.
Police say half of the woman’s body was sticking out of the box when emergency crews arrived.
She was without vital signs when firefighters managed to pull her from the bin. Despite efforts to resuscitate her, she died at the scene.
The incident is not considered to be suspicious, police said, but has been ruled a “death by misadventure.”
The victim has been identified by friends and staff at local women’s shelter Sistering as Crystal Papineau.
Papineau, according to a friend identified only as Victoria, often went to retrieve items from donation bins, which she then distributed to others. Victoria noted that Papineau gifted her with a purse during her last visit.
Victoria said that she saw Papineau the night of the incident.
“She was an amazing person. She came by last night. It was like a month or more since I had seen her last. We were best friends and she goes, ‘Miss you girl, you’re amazing’ and she goes, ‘I’m going over to the bins.’”
“I didn’t think anything of it,” said Victoria.
“Sometimes she takes off and then comes by in the morning and then someone said someone died in the donation bin and then like … wait a minute, that was my friend.”
Patricia O’Connell, the executive director of Sistering, said that Papineau was a regular at the shelter for years and that she was compassionate and had a great sense of humour.
Another friend said that she was saddened to learn of Papineau’s death.
“We just lost a sister,” said Mitra. “She was complicated, but she was a lovely woman. We all really got along and she knew everyone here and everyone knew her. She’s going to be deeply missed.”
One area resident told CP24 that she often sees women from a nearby homeless shelter try to grab things from the donation bin.
“Someone could have just been trying to get some clothes or even trying to get warm,” she said.
The box was reportedly a relatively new addition to the neighbourhood. It has since been removed from the site.
Two similar incidents were reported in Vancouver last year.
The death of a 34-year-old man found lodged in a clothing donation box in West Vancouver on Dec. 30 has resulted in the removal of donation boxes across British Columbia.
Speaking to CTV News Toronto via phone, a representative from Rangeview Fabricating Inc., the company that makes the bins, said that they have stopped making the model after last week’s incident in B.C.
The representative said the company is working on a video that demonstrates how to cut the metal bars on the bin that cause the doors to pinch. The video will reportedly be sent out to all the charities using the bins as soon as it is complete.
Rangeview Fabricating believes it is the bars that cause people to get stuck inside the chutes. They will also be removing “anti-theft capabilities” from future models.
Crews have reportedly been dispatched across the GTA today to cut the metal bars on behalf of the manufacturer.
Along with the bin changes, Rangeview Fabricating said they will work in conjunction with students at the University of British Columbia on a new prototype of donation bin with better safety features.
Mayor John Tory told reporters Tuesday that he wants the city to conduct its own review on donation boxes in Toronto.
“I think it is extremely important in light of what’s happened now that we should examine the safety implications of these boxes,” he said.
“They are set up in a way to make it difficult for people to have access to the inside of the box but obviously (they are) not safe enough.”
Tory said the review will also address whether the boxes are placed in proper locations and if they are the best way to go about collecting used clothing in the first place.
“I think if we look at these broad questions, focusing now first and foremost on safety but then looking again at the whole question of whether this system still works and whether these boxes are properly located, it will give us a kind of thorough examination of this,” he said.
“I think the precedent that has been established in Vancouver and elsewhere will help us to get to get to a conclusion on this fairly rapidly.”
-With files from CTV Vancouver