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Coroner still investigating death at Maple Ridge prison

Victor Crane was found unresponsive in his cell at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre on May 20. - The New/Files
Victor Crane was found unresponsive in his cell at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre on May 20.
— image credit: The New/Files

The B.C. Coroner's Service has yet to decide whether to call an inquest into the death of an inmate, three months ago at a Maple Ridge men's prison.

An autopsy conducted on Victor Francis Crane has failed to reveal what killed him, although Ridge Meadows RCMP rule out foul play.

Crane was found unresponsive in his cell just before 9 p.m., May 20 at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, where he was serving a 75-day sentence.

The 33-year-old was handed the sentence May 2 after pleading guilty to one count of assault and two breaches in Vernon. He died 18 days later.

A corrections officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Crane may have lain in his cell for three days before he was found.

His death and the investigation that followed it have affected staff at the prison on 256th Street, added the guard.

"Morale at is at an all-time low," according to the guard.

The coroner's service is waiting for a pathology report before it makes a decision on calling an inquest.

"We are not quite sure what the classification of his death will be," said spokesperson Barbara McLintock.

"He may or may not have been left in his cell for three days.That would be decided at the coroner's inquest – if we decide to go that route."

B.C. Corrections conducted a "critical incident review" following Crane's death that seeks to examine the circumstances surrounding it, including the inmate's history and possible causes.

Corrections spokesperson Cindy Rose said the reviews, where appropriate, make recommendations to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident.

"This death is a tragedy and our heartfelt condolences go out to this inmate's family and friends," Rose added.

"B.C. Corrections takes the death of an inmate in its custody very seriously. The RCMP was immediately notified of this death and continues to investigate the incident, along with the B.C. Coroners Service. Given that these investigations are ongoing, it would be inappropriate for B.C. Corrections to release any additional information at this time."

The union that represents prison guards at Fraser regional is also waiting for the results of the investigations and would not comment on Crane's death.

But Dean Purdy, chair of corrections and sheriff services with the B.C. Government Employees Union, echoed complaints about morale being low at the prison.

"A good part of it has to do with overcrowded conditions and also wages," said Purdy. The inmate count at Fraser regional was 485 on the day Crane died.

Purdy points out the prison in Maple Ridge was built in 1990 to house 264 inmates – one per cell. Drug use amongst inmates is another concern.

The BCGEU's 25,000 members have been without a contract since March. Talks with the provincial government to negotiate a new collective agreement stalled in June after the union rejected the two-year pay increase on offer.

Purdy says the government's offer of a 3.5-per-cent pay raise over two years is not enough. The government's offer would see a person earning $48,000 get a pay increase of $1,700 over the next two years,

"We are $17,000 below our federal counterparts," he added.

Instead, the union is seeking a 3.5-per-cent wage increase in the first year and a cost-of-living increase in the second.

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