Family of 19-year-old who died after illness at Edmonton Remand Centre questions medical response

The mother of a 19-year-old who died in June after an illness while in custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre says she believes her son would still be alive if he had been taken to hospital sooner.

“He could have been saved,” said Wyoma Cabry. 

Wyoma Cabry still doesn’t know what led to her youngest son Erik’s death, as she said she hasn’t seen any official medical reports yet. But she said his health deteriorated rapidly in the weeks after his arrest. 

She described Erik as a boy who loved to joke around and tease people and said “he was the heart of the family.”

“When I really look at it now, he was the one that really pulled us together.”

Her understanding of what happened to Erik while in custody is informed by her conversations with him and by what her older son Jesse witnessed. 

Brothers held in same cell 

Her sons, Jesse and Erik, were arrested on June 1 at her home in Maskwacis, Alta. They were each charged with aggravated assault and then held in cells together at remand. 

In a phone call recorded after Erik’s death and shared with CBC News, Jesse described to his mother how he tried repeatedly to get medical attention for his younger brother. 

“I told them, I said, since Day 1, look, my brother’s not feeling good,” Jesse told his mother. 

He described pushing a button in their cell on four separate occasions to get medical attention for Erik. At first, he said, Erik was taken away briefly and brought back to the cell.

He said correctional staff told him Erik’s vital signs were fine. 

In a phone call to his mother, Jesse Cabry says he tried numerous times to get medical attention for Erik while they were at the Edmonton Remand Centre. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

By the third time he tried to get medical attention, Jesse said he was starting to get angry. He told his mother he accused correctional staff of ignoring Erik’s worsening medical situation. 

The fourth time Jesse pushed their cell button for help, he said he told correctional staff “He’s sweating and he can barely breathe.” 

He said after this fourth call Erik was taken away, and didn’t come back. 

Eventually he was told Erik had been taken to hospital. The next morning he was told his younger brother was dead. 

Wyoma Cabry said she got a call from the hospital at around 2 a.m. on the morning of June 22. When she arrived at the hospital with Erik’s girlfriend, the doctors told them they’d already revived her son three times.

“I held his hand and said ‘I’m here my son,'” she said. 

Wyoma and her youngest son Erik Cabry in an undated photo. (Wyoma Cabry)

She said the doctors told her Erik had a lung infection, that his kidneys were failing and that his heart was enlarged.  

“I remember the doctor telling me his body was shutting down,” she said. 

It wasn’t long after she arrived that she was told there was nothing left that the doctors could do to save her son. Hours later, he was dead. 

“My son didn’t have to die,” she said. 

“He was healthy. He went in healthy. There was nothing wrong with him.” 

Staff ‘responded quickly’ says Justice ministry

A spokesperson for the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General said an inmate at the Edmonton Remand Centre reported feeling unwell on June 21 and died in hospital the following day. 

“Correctional staff and onsite medical professionals responded quickly and professionally,” said a statement from the ministry.

The ministry said that as per protocol, a full internal review will be conducted. It said the results will be reviewed to see if any changes need to be implemented. 

“Due to privacy legislation, no further information can be shared,” read the statement. 

On Tuesday, family and friends of Erik and Jesse Cabry are planning a rally outside the Wetaskiwin, Alta., courthouse where Jesse, who is still being held at Edmonton Remand, is scheduled to have a bail hearing.

Wyoma Cabry said she’s hoping Jesse will be able to come home on Tuesday, so he can be with his family as they continue to grieve Erik’s death. 

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