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Cocaine killed prisoner, inquest told
Last Updated Jun 15 2006 09:44 AM CDT

CBC News

A massive amount of cocaine killed a woman who was carrying concealed drugs while she was in police custody, a coroner's inquest heard Wednesday.

Dona Sanderson, 42, died June 26, 2005. A week earlier she had been arrested on a drug charge and placed in Saskatoon city police cells. The inquest has heard Sanderson was carrying a bag of cocaine in her vagina the night she was arrested by Saskatoon city police and placed in cells.

Drugs acted fast Dr. Wendelin Ezzat, the pathologist who performed the autopsy, testified the massive amount of cocaine would have been absorbed rapidly, because the vagina has a large surface area and many blood vessels. Ezzat says the heart would have stopped within very few minutes. Once the heart stops, the brain is deprived of oxygen and begins to swell. As a result, Sanderson would have been brain dead in about five minutes.

Before Sanderson stopped breathing and collapsed in her jail cell, she did complain of feeling unwell. There likely wasn't anything doctors could have done to save her given the circumstances, Ezzat said.

Police suspected cocaine Some of the questions being asked at the inquest have focused on when police knew Sanderson was in distress and how quickly they reacted. The inquest heard on a tape of the 911 call that around 7 a.m. on June 20, Sgt. Byron Hardy phoned for an ambulance. He said Sanderson had the shakes and might be having a reaction to cocaine. Hardy told the inquest he knew about the possibility of Sanderson having cocaine on her because the commissionaire who was making rounds told him.

Before making the call, Hardy said he tried talking to Sanderson, who was pacing in her cell. However, she was mumbling and he didn't get a response, he said.

At one point Sanderson had her pants around her buttocks and it looked as though she was grabbing at something between her vaginal area and knees, he said. Hardy said the ambulance was called because Sanderson was lying on her back, trembling. Response time questioned One of the constables on the 911 tape suggested Sanderson was faking her symptoms and playing a bit of a game.

Nicole Fontaine, a sister of Sanderson, said she wasn?t impressed by the "ignorant" comments. She also wonders why police didn?t act sooner. She says her sister was lying down minutes before 7 a.m. and no one was helping her.

Prior to lying down, Sanderson can be seen in a surveillance video wandering around her cell, Fontaine said. That's when people should have asked how they could help her, she said.
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