Massive blood loss from gunshot wounds caused the death of Jeffrey Scott Hughes, a coroner’s inquest into his death heard Thursday.
Police were responding to a noise complaint at Hughes’s apartment on Selby Street on Oct. 23, 2009 when, according to RCMP testimony, he threatened officers, then emerged from his apartment with what officers believed at the time was a gun and was subsequently shot. It was later determined Hughes’s weapon was a flare gun.
The inquest started Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo.
Forensic pathologist David Charlesworth, who was unable to attend, detailed his findings in a taped video recording played for Coroner Marj Paonessa and the seven-member jury.
Charlesworth determined that Hughes was shot three times.
One bullet entered the back of his right arm, then went through his chest, hitting the abdominal aorta – the largest blood vessel in the body – as well as the liver and various parts of the intestine.
Another bullet entered the back of the leg just below the buttocks, striking the right femoral artery. A third bullet went through his heel.
Charlesworth was unable to determine the order Hughes received these injuries, but both he and paramedic Terry Jensen, who also took the stand Thursday, said Hughes’s injuries were likely fatal even if he had received immediate medical attention.
Jensen declared Hughes dead at 7:35 a.m., but he believes he was dead “quite a long time” prior to this. Calls of shots fired were heard over police radio around 7 a.m.
Others who took the stand Wednesday and Thursday revealed further details about Hughes’s mental state around the time of the shooting.
Dr. Keith Phillips, Hughes’s family physician, said Wednesday that Hughes suffered from borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and chemical dependency, and he also had Hepatitis C, contracted from intravenous drug use in his youth.
When he first heard of Hughes’s death, Phillips said he wasn’t surprised and believed it was “inevitable” that Hughes died in such a tragic way because of his mental illnesses, one of which prevented him from accepting help for the other.
Phillips said he was skeptical of the ability of any health professional to help Hughes, who had a history of violence, including assaults and bomb threats.
Cathy Booler, administrative director at the Georgia Strait Alliance, noticed a downturn in Hughes’s behaviour shortly before the time he was shot.
Hughes helped out with computer work, mail-outs and bingo hall duties at the alliance for about 10 years, and while he was always professional and friendly at the office, she described him as a person in a lot of turmoil and pain.
She said Hughes told her shortly before his death that he couldn’t stand where he was living and that he needed to get out of that building and out of Nanaimo.
He also told her not to worry about him if he didn’t show up for a while because if he wanted to end his life, he would go out in a “blaze of bullets”.
Thursday’s testimony at the inquest included two more RCMP officers who fired shots at Hughes during the Selby Street confrontation. Two others who fired shots testified Tuesday.
Const. Heather Cook told the courtroom she was cornered in a fenced-in area at the front of the apartment building when Hughes came into her vision in what she described as a shooting stance. Just moments before she had heard “a large volume of gunshots” when Hughes was not within sight and was afraid one of her colleagues had been shot.
Cook yelled for Hughes to drop his gun and fired two shots at him when he turned toward her without complying. She fired another two shots at him when he turned to face other officers.
Cpl. Paul McIntosh said he decided to confront Hughes as he was walking up the apartment driveway toward Selby Street – where other officers were positioned to create a perimeter around the area – because he was worried that if Hughes made it out to the street with his weapon, there would be a potential crossfire situation.