Samwel Uko sent ‘inconsistent’ messages on day of death, inquest witnesses say
The jury at the highly anticipated public inquest into the death of Samwel Uko heard more about his behavior that led to his death in Regina on Tuesday.
The inquest is now into its second day.
Uko, a 20-year-old football player from Abbotsford, British Columbia, died in Wascana Lake on May 21, 2020, while visiting an aunt in Regina. His family said it was a suicide.
Prior to his death, Uko had twice sought medical help for mental health issues and was forcibly removed from Regina General Hospital. Uko was removed due to a lack of clarity and communication issues in Uko’s registration information. Her body was found at Wascana Lake about an hour later.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority apologized to Uko’s family in July 2020, later admitting in a legal document that it failed to provide follow-up care, and paid $81,000 in damages to the family.
On Tuesday morning, the jury heard from Amanda Johansen, a former education assistant at Abbotsford High School, where Uko attended before graduating in 2018.
Johansen said she had a close relationship with young Uko and he was well-liked.
He was “laid back, easy going, always had a smile on his face,” Johansen said.
But she said they didn’t keep in touch after she left school.
Then, on May 21, 2020, Johansen was notified through an educational assistant group chat that Uko had posted regarding Facebook posts including “I need help.”
Various people, including Johansen, started messaging and calling Uko. She said he was acting paranoid and she had never seen him act like that.
“I don’t think any of us know the extent of it, but we knew he needed help.”
Johansen said those messaging Uko “couldn’t talk him out of it”.
“We texted him so many times, there were so many people calling him.”
When asked what she wished the hospital had done differently when Uko tried to get help, Johansen said she wished “someone had been looking at her phone inside. hospital”.
“So they would have seen a lot of our messages and calls, and could have messaged us.”
Johansen said she did not believe Uko was taken seriously at the hospital. Her voice cracked as she described Uko’s character.
“He was such a good boy.”
Nancy Klop is also an educational assistant at Abbotsford High School. She supported Uko with several classes when he attended school, mostly in English.
Klop said Uko was one of the favorite students in Learning Support Services.
“Everyone loved him.”
On May 21, 2020, Klop was also part of the teaching assistant’s group chat who was concerned about Uko’s behavior. He was “incoherent,” she said.
“It was totally out of character. Something was wrong.”
An emergency nurse testifies
Scott Harrison, an ER nurse with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, also testified Tuesday morning.
Harrison said he performed a primary assessment of Uko during his first visit to Regina General Hospital on May 21, 2020, around 9:45 a.m.
Uko seemed withdrawn and had trouble making eye contact, Harrison testified. However, he said that Uko had no trouble answering questions.
Uko told Harrison he was having depressing thoughts and suicidal thoughts. He described being stressed out about not finding work during the pandemic. Uko also said he had trouble sleeping.
Uko had a car accident on June 3, 2019 and he shared this information with the nurse.
After the primary assessment, Harrison said Uko was then assigned to another nurse.
A change that has now been made to ensure every patient sees a nurse and doctor before leaving an emergency room is a good way to ensure that what happened to Uko doesn’t happen to anyone else, Harrison told the jury.
Asked about diversity training at the hospital, Harrison said nurses like him receive it, but he couldn’t remember his last session.
Social worker, Wascana witness, ER doctor testify
Bobbi Jo Slinn, who works at the mental health clinic, testified Tuesday afternoon. She was the social worker Uko was referred to after his first visit to the emergency room on May 21, 2020. She said they had a phone conversation a few hours after he was discharged from hospital.
Slinn said that when they connected, Uko looked shocked and asked why she was calling him. They talked for over half an hour. She said it was unclear where he was, where he lived and why he was in Regina. She described her behavior as “flat” and “low”.
Uko was unable to provide examples of support systems he might have had.
Slinn referred Uko to a psychiatrist, who wanted to give him an appointment the same week. But they never met.
Slinn only found out that Uko died on May 28, 2020.
Shaharn Haque, a Regina resident, was riding his bike on the evening of May 21, 2020 in Wascana Park when he got tired and sat down on a bench. Then he saw Uko talking to himself.
Haque testified that Uko took off his jacket and entered the lake. He said the man came out of the water twice before disappearing into the lake and not coming up again.
Haque said many people were present and the police were called.
Dr. Amy Goodday then testified. She works in Regina General’s emergency room and assessed Uko during her first visit to the emergency room on the day of her death.
She said she was impressed that Uko showed up to the emergency room for help. She testified that since her car accident in 2019, her mood had been up and down. He told her he was having trouble concentrating and wanted help sleeping. Uko wanted to try out for the University of Regina Rams football team, but he was having trouble practicing.
Goodday said that during their discussion, Uko made good eye contact, was consistent and pleasant.
When asked what needed to be improved at Regina General, Goodday said he needed more staff, a mental health hospital and more emergency rooms.
Writing “Daudau” was a mistake
Ronda Schmalenberg then testified. She was the registration clerk at Regina General who registered Uko the first time he asked for help. She admitted that she was troubled by her BC driver’s license. Thinking it was his surname, Schmalenberg registered it with the surname “Daudau”.
She said Uko was acting “incoherently” at the time and told him he was hearing voices.
When he returned to the hospital that afternoon, he registered as “Uko”.
On Monday, Saskatchewan Health Authority official John Ash told the jury he does not believe anyone ordered Uko to be escorted out of the hospital. He thinks it was a misunderstanding.
The SHA previously revealed that due to the pandemic, people weren’t allowed to hang out in the hospital at this time, which contributed to Uko’s dismissal by security.
The jury in the inquest, which began Monday at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Regina and is expected to continue for at least a week, will hear from 25 witnesses in total.
The purpose of the inquest is to investigate the time and place of Uko’s death, as well as the medical cause and circumstances of his death. From there, the coroner’s jury can make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.
If you or someone you know is having trouble, here’s where to get help:
This guide to Center for Addiction and Mental Health explains how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.