Coroner’s Law requires inquest in certain cases of sudden death
Verdicts of misadventure were returned in the cases of two tourists who drowned in separate incidents last year.
The circumstances of their deaths were examined by a Coroner’s Jury during a recent series of inquests conducted by Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik.
Joseph Johnson, 63, died after snorkeling off the coast of North Side in the area of Driftwood Village on May 26, 2013. Louis De Baise, 81, died after going for a swim off Seven Mile Beach on June 13, 2013.
The Coroner’s Law sets out the situations in which an inquest is required, including a violent or unnatural death or a sudden death of which the cause has not been medically determined.
When Mrs. Nervik sits as coroner, she explains that an inquest is a public fact-finding inquiry directed solely to establish the identification of the deceased, the physical cause of death and how the death was brought about.
“It is also to satisfy the community that no death will be overlooked,” she points out.
She also explains the possible verdicts, including misadventure – when the evidence suggests that the person deliberately undertook a task which went wrong or something occurred over which there was no human control.
The standard of proof for a verdict of misadventure is on a balance of probabilities.
Mr. Johnson, who was on vacation at a North Side condominium complex, went snorkeling with two family members. The wind and currents started to change, pulling them out into deeper water and they got separated. The woman who was with him was not a good swimmer, so she returned to shore to get help. When she last saw Mr. Johnson, he was treading water.
The man who was in the water with Mr. Johnson could not see him because the water was too choppy. Meanwhile, 911 had been contacted and a guest from another condo entered the water in an effort to assist. The police helicopter arrived within minutes and, after dropping off one officer, hovered over the area where someone was seen floating. This enabled the men in the water to spot and reach Mr. Johnson. They brought him to shore, where CPR was administered. Resuscitation efforts continued until an ambulance arrived and that crew took over. Mr. Johnson was declared dead at the Cayman Islands Hospital.
In the case of Mr. De Baise, a police report indicated that he, his wife and his brother came to Cayman on a cruise ship and went to the public beach in the vicinity of Calico Jack’s. He swam while the others sat on the beach and talked.
A short while later, Mrs. De Baise noticed her husband floating face down. She entered the water and turned him over and her brother-in-law helped get him to the beach, where a person they did not know began CPR until an ambulance crew took over.
She told authorities that her husband wore a pacemaker and took medications daily but was very active.
The pathologists who performed both autopsies found frothy fluid in the men’s airways, suggestive of recent sea water drowning. The jury adopted this finding as the physical cause of death in both cases and reached verdicts of misadventure.
In Mr. De Baise’s case, his heart condition was a contributory cause.