REGINA — The inquest into the death of 20-year-old Samwel Uko at Wascana Lake in 2020 continues in Regina.
The proceedings were set to reach the midway point on Wednesday at the Regina Plaza, with testimony from more key witnesses expected. A total of 25 witnesses were expected to be called in total, with the jury likely to receive instructions from Coroner Robert Kennedy.
Uko died at Wascana Lake on the evening of May 21 after twice attempting to access medical help in hospital. It was on his second trip to hospital at Regina General that he was removed without receiving medical help.
EAs testify Tuesday
Tuesday’s testimony included several witnesses. The morning session included phone testimony from two educational assistants who had worked with Samwel during his time in school in Abbotsford, and who tried to reach out to him on the day he died.
One of those was Amanda Johansen, who had helped Samwel with math and science as an EA.
Johansen called Samwel “laid back and easygoing”, and “had the biggest smile.” He knew he wanted to play football, she said.
She said Uko seemed to be a happy guy. “You never saw him angry … or frustrated,” Johansen said.
Johansen testified in May 2020 that while on an educational assistants’ group chat, she was made aware of some Facebook posts by Uko in which he stated “I need help.”
Those on the group chat started messaging him to ask if things were okay. She said one of those in the EA group shared a screenshot from a conversation she had with Uko, where he had claimed the police were going to kill him.
“We knew something was going on,” said Johansen. The group struggled to figure out where he was and had made several attempts to message him.
“We messaged him so many times and there were multiple people calling,” she said.
The inquest also heard from Nancy Klop, an educational assistant at Abbotsford Junior Secondary School who also had worked with Samwel, working with him on his English skills.
She told a similar story about Uko as a “definitely one of my favourites — everyone liked him.” She described him as a “bright ray of sunshine.” His goal was the NFL, and Klop stated the belief he would have "definitely" made the CFL.
Klop also had been on the chat group and had seen Uko’s Facebook post where he had posted “I need help.” She said this was “totally out of character — something was wrong.”
Klop said they tried to reach out to him but he was “very incoherent” at this point. There was a whole network of family, friends, EAs trying to reach out to him, she said.
On Wednesday morning, the main activity took place outside the hearing room. Uko’s family spoke to the media in a news conference organized by Black in Sask. During that availability, they made known their contention that race was the reason why Uko was removed from hospital.
Inquest proceedings resumed Wednesday with more testimony. During the morning testimony there was also the playing of a security video from the triage area of Regina General Hospital from during the time when Uko was at the hospital. The video was played during the testimony of Sara Thompson, a nurse at Regina General Hospital. Thompson explained on the stand that Uko's sitting on a chair near the registration desk was causing issues with patients coming in and out.
It was during the playing of that video that an emotional outburst from Uko's family happened. Uko was heard loudly on the video in the background loudly yelling, and then screaming "leave me alone" at the moment he was in the process of being removed.
It was at that moment that Uko's sister interrupted the proceedings by saying "did you hear that, did you hear that?"
"Right there! My own f---ing brother!" She also shouted at the witness "you b--ch."
At that moment proceedings were halted and counsel agreed to an early break for lunch. Regarding what was just said, counsel for the SHA Reginald Watson told Coroner Kennedy that "that was completely inappropriate."
The hearing resumed at 12:30 p.m. with lengthy remarks by Kennedy in the aftermath of the outburst. He noted he had the power to remove people from the inquest but did not expect to use them, and asked the jury to "completely ignore" what happened. Testimony resumed with Thompson still on the stand.
There has also been another development in the case. Uko's uncle Justin Nyee confirmed to reporters that the family is sending back the $81,000 settlement from the Saskatchewan Health Authority from the civil case filed by the family against the authority.
Stay tuned for further updates as they happen.