‘She died in front of me’

James McCluskey moves flowers to where he found a woman who died on Saturday. - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
James McCluskey moves flowers to where he found a woman who died on Saturday.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

She was face down in the mud, wearing a red baseball cap and purple jacket with a fur lined hood. Her cellphone was in front of her, but just out of reach. Two grocery bags were by her side, the contents strewn across the ground.

This was the scene James McCluskey came upon as he took his dog for a walk around 10 p.m. Saturday night.

Rain was falling steadily as he walked along the front path to his house. When he glanced to the left, he noticed the woman.

She was lying by a telephone pole along 121st Avenue, in front of a vacant yellow house with a board over the door and tarps across the windows.

McCluskey rolled her over and, although she was unresponsive, she was still warm and had a pulse. He cleaned the mud and dirt from her face, called 911 and started to pump her chest.

Firefighters were the first to arrive. McCluskey estimates it took them 5 to 10 minutes to reach the scene. The ambulance was the last to arrive, he says, getting there 30 minutes later.

She died in front of him.

“They didn’t move her,” the 54-year-old truck driver said of paramedics.

“When they finally showed up, they never did nothing. They just stayed there and did what I was doing and pumped on her chest for 50 more minutes.”

The woman’s name was Samantha, he learned, that she was 38 years old, homeless, with two children who lived with her mother.

McCluskey is traumatized by death.

After a tarp was placed over her, an officer told McCluskey that she died after receiving 30 shots of Narcan.

McCluskey said that three hours earlier, the same girl and another had been taken from a shed at the back of the house and transported by ambulance to hospital.

Maple Ridge Fire Chief Dane Spence said his department received two calls to 22500-block of 121st Ave. that night – one at 6:25 p.m. and another at 9:45 p.m.

In the latter, he said firefighters arrived two minutes after they got the call – at 9:47 p.m.

When they arrived on scene, the patient was face up and “already had a cardiac arrest.”

Preet Grewel of B.C. Emergency Health Services said paramedics arrived at 9:52 p.m. They did not transport her.

Spence couldn’t say what caused the death, only that the patient was unconscious when crews arrived.

But in the last week, fire crews have responded to 17 overdoses.

“It’s an absolute epidemic. It’s horrific the overdoses we’re seeing.”

Firefighters are not equipped with Narcan kits that can immediately revive someone who overdosed.

Illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. have jumped 27 per cent in 2015 and nearly 50 per cent in the Fraser Region, according to the B.C. Coroner’s Service.

An estimated 30 per cent of overdose deaths involved fentanyl – either the dangerously potent synthetic opiate by itself or mixed with other drugs –and that proportion has steadily climbed over the past three years.

Two wilted flower stems were placed near the house, but McCluskey moved them to the spot where he found her body and placed them on a concrete block.


– with files from Phil Melnychuk


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