Coyle to be sentenced in coming months

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Justice Pieter Joubert reserved his decision for a later date after an all-day sentencing hearing Monday in the Ontario Court of Justice in Fort Frances. Former nurse Lindsey Coyle pleaded guilty to Criminal Negligence Causing Death almost a year prior to Monday’s hearing.

Over the course of the day, family members of the late Hermina Fletcher gave statements about the impact of the crime on their lives.

Fletcher’s granddaughters Caitlyn and Melissa, son Melvin Fletcher Jr., and former daughter-in-law Susanne Bragg all testified to the impact losing Hermina has had on them. Statements were also read by Hermina’s great niece on behalf of her sister and brother in law as well as two other nieces.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Coyle was employed as a registered practical nurse at La Verendrye Hospital when she altered Hermina Fletcher’s chart so she could steal morphine for her own personal use.

As a result of the changed report, which was left with the increased dosage, Hermina received two 10 milligram doses of morphine the evening of January 3, 2015.

Hermina lost consciousness that night and died the next day on Jan. 4, 2015 shortly after 6 a.m.

The agreed statement also says, “Dr. Michael Wilson, the Regional Coroner stated in a report that on a balance of probabilities the death was due to morphine toxicity… Dr. Alfredo Walker, a forensic pathologist of the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service prepared a medical legal opinion on the death of Mrs. Fletcher. His conclusion was that the victim likely died from acute morphine toxicity.”

In the family’s victim impact statements, there was a running theme of mistrust towards the health care system since Fletcher’s death.

“I don’t think I can ever feel a hospital is safe again,” Melissa Fletcher said.

Melvin Fletcher Jr. recounted a recent hospital stay saying he wanted to check each pill he was given by nurses and would not accept a morphine drip. He also added that his father who had lived through the death of his wife would not go to a hospital as his health failed in his last days.

The family members also recounted Hermina’s love for her family and community.

“Grandma could cure anything with brown sugar and chocolate chips,” Melissa Fletcher said.

Family members also pointed to a lack of remorse on Coyle’s behalf, recalling Coyle’s attitude at her plea hearing.

“I did see how you smiled when you turned and talked to the people behind you when you pled guilty,” Melvin Fletcher Jr. said. “I had a hard time to hold my anger in. I can’t believe you don’t even have the common sense to fake any kind of remorse.”

In submissions Coyle’s defence lawyer, Barry Sinder, argued for a suspended sentence saying that if Coyle were to violate the terms of the suspended sentence she could be resentenced to jail time.

Sinder said that the very fact that Coyle pleaded guilty was a sign of her remorse and also added that because Coyle was an addict there is not as much moral culpability which should be seen as a mitigating factor. He also argued that Coyle’s three young children need their mother to be their caretaker as well.

Sinder also told the judge the onus was on Coyle’s colleagues to ensure the patient was receiving the right amount of morphine.

Crown attorney David Kirk argued that Coyle’s crime was a “devastating breach of trust,” both of Hermina and her family’s, and her colleagues who would not expect to have to ensure the morphine dosages on charts are correct.

“To suggest that the other nurse coming in to replace the offender bears some responsibility for the death of Hermina is repugnant,” Kirk said.

He also noted that it was likely that Coyle had created a pattern of this type of drug theft, saying that an extended period of stealing drugs and getting away with it likely only ended because Hermina Fletcher died as a result of Coyle’s actions.

Kirk quoted Coyle saying, “I was high as a kite many times at work.”

Kirk argued that a crime such as this requires a sentence that would deter potential future offenders.

“This case calls for a sentence of real jail. Nothing short of that can reflect the gravity of the circumstances of this case,” Kirk said. “Simply, a suspended sentence is of no consequence for the actions that have taken place.”

He also noted that Coyle had pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to comply with a court order that was broken when Coyle was discovered to be under the influence of alcohol with her children in her care.

After the lawyers’ submissions, Justice Joubert gave Coyle the opportunity to address the court.

Coyle said she’d never expected to become an addict and she was trying to take responsibility for her actions.

“I hope that moving forward I can only make better decisions and I am given the opportunity to do that for my children,” she said. “I would just like to apologize one more time to my community, my coworkers and patients, and the families. I know that’s not good enough, but that’s what I have to say.”

A date for sentencing will be set on September 12 which will come in October or November as scheduling for all involved parties permits.

Law firm Judson Howie LLP is representing the surviving family members of Hermina Fletcher in a civil suit against Coyle. The Fletcher’s filed a motion to dismiss the civil action against Riverside Health Care in May of this year. However, on Tuesday, the firm announced that the family has written to Ontario health minister Sylvia Jones requesting that the ministry conduct an investigation of La Verendrye Hospital in Fort Frances.

“The Fletchers have requested that the Minister of Health facilitate an investigation under section 8 of the Public Hospitals Act, which allows for investigation and reporting on ‘the quality of the management and administration of a hospital, the quality of the care and treatment of patients in a hospital or any other matter relating to a hospital where the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers it in the public interest to do so,’” said the release.

The Fletchers have requested that “the investigator’s report ought to include policy recommendations to government and hospitals to improve safeguards and increase victim transparency into the details of professional discipline matters arising from serious and life- threatening misconduct. We also suggest that impacted patients, families of victims, and health care workers be contacted as part of this process.”