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Sweatman inquest hears from police diver

Sheilah Sweatman
Sheilah Sweatman's parents, brothers, and one of her sisters are all present at the Nelson courthouse for the inquest into her death.
— image credit: Greg Nesteroff photo

An RCMP diver told a coroner’s inquest this morning his team wasn’t deployed to the Goat River where a Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer drowned last year partly because the water sounded too dangerous.

Sheilah Sweatman, 29, died on June 29, 2011 while trying to recover a car that belonged to a missing woman. Her leg got caught in a steel cable and pulled her off her raft into the river.

Cst. Dale Judd, formerly stationed in Castlegar, testified by video link that his team leader asked if he could investigate the submerged vehicle, but he was in the midst of moving to Prince Rupert.

He also talked to Cst. Shelley Livingstone, who was in charge of the scene, and asked her what the river was like. She guessed it was 10 to 15 knots, which he felt was “too strong and unsafe.”

“We could not put a diver in the water under those circumstances,” Judd said. He asked her to give him an update once Nelson Search and Rescue arrived, and in the meantime called another member of the team, but he was in Christina Lake.

Judd said he never received any further update on the risk the river posed.

“Might you have provided assistance had you been there?” family lawyer Cameron Ward asked.

“Without knowing the speed, I don’t know if I could swim against the current,” Judd responded, adding “If I felt it was safe, we would make an attempt.”

Judd agreed with Ward’s suggestion that the dive team might have helped, even if it was only to provide advice. Ward also asked if the bolt cutters the team normally carried could have cut the steel chain Sweatman got tangled in.

“You probably could, but it would be some work,” he said. “I’ve never tried.”

Judd said in other vehicle recoveries they have used a poly-steel rope that their cutters are able to sever.

Eyewitness account

This morning also heard from the first eyewitness to the tragedy, Creston RCMP Cst. David Skretting, who was standing on the Goat River bridge with search personnel, and called an ambulance after Sweatman went into the water.

Skretting says upon arriving on scene, everyone seemed to know what they were doing and nothing gave him any concern.

“If I was in the same position, I would want those people there,” he said.

Skettring is also testifying on behalf of Cst. Livingstone, who is on vacation. Family lawyer Cameron Ward, however, wants her to testify by phone, but coroner Matt Brown has put off a decision pending the completion of other testimony.

TV station applies for footage

Global News has applied to broadcast portions of the video taken that day as part of filming for the reality TV series Callout: Search and Rescue.

Reporter John Daly argued in person that the station only intends to use small excerpts from the footage to demonstrate the efforts of Sweatman’s colleagues to rescue her.

The coroner ruled the application will be decided upon after Ward has had a chance to consult the family and the video is viewed in the inquest, expected later today.

Inquest behind schedule

Ward began the day’s proceedings by saying Sweatman’s family is concerned about the pace of the inquest given the number of witnesses yet to testify.

According to a schedule released by the BC Coroners Service, five people are supposed to give their evidence today in addition to viewing the view footage, but by the lunch break, only two had.

Another 11 witnesses are scheduled Wednesday and Thursday, followed by jury deliberations Friday.

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