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Mother wanted schizophrenic son out of home before fatal fire, inquest told

A woman who died after her house was set on fire – prompting arson and manslaughter charges against her mentally ill son – wanted him out of the residence shortly before her death, a coroner's inquest has heard.

Colette Marie Salemink, 59, died in April, 2010, following the blaze at her Coquitlam, B.C., home. Her son, Blake, who was being treated for a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was charged in the death. Earlier this year, the now 25-year-old was found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.

During its second day of testimony Wednesday, the inquest heard Ms. Salemink was overwhelmed by having her son in her home – a situation that had resulted in several police visits. She was assaulted in late 2009, and said her son threatened to kill her two days before her death.

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Mr. Salemink was released from a mental-health facility in 2008, and one of the conditions of his extended leave was that he reside with his mother. But Sue Bateman, a psychiatric nurse who served as Mr. Salemink's primary therapist, testified that the mother wanted her son out.

Ms. Bateman said she talked to her patient about alternative housing, but he chose to remain at his mother's because it was free. She said she advised Ms. Salemink to consider a restraining order, though the mother did not apply for one. Ms. Bateman said Ms. Salemink was concerned her son would end up homeless if she took such a step.

Ms. Bateman said she was aware Mr. Salemink had pushed his mother in the past, but not that he had uttered death threats. She said Ms. Salemink had initially agreed to take care of her son during the extended leave.

The five-person inquest jury cannot make findings of legal responsibility. It can, however, make recommendations to prevent similar incidents.

One juror asked what guidelines are in place for a person who changes her mind about caring for someone who is mentally ill.

Constable Erica Saurette, an RCMP officer who testified, offered another possibility. She said starting a program in Coquitlam in which a psychiatric nurse and police officer respond to mental-health calls together would be beneficial. RCMP in Surrey, and the municipal Vancouver Police Department, have similar programs.

Better information-sharing between police and mental-health officials was a recurring theme Wednesday.

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Rohan Ramsundhar, Mr. Salemink's psychiatrist, also testified. He said Mr. Salemink's illness was "unpredictable." At times he seemed well; soon after he might not.

Dr. Ramsundhar said the exchange of information between police and mental-health officials must improve. He said he did not know Mr. Salemink had assaulted his mother in 2009 until well after the woman's death. He said the only information in his file was that there had been some minor pushing. Had he known, the doctor said he would have brought Mr. Salemink back to the mental-health facility immediately.

Dr. Ramsundhar said he did not see a difference in Mr. Salemink in the time before his mother's death. He last saw him days before the fire.

Ronald Jordon, a paramedic, testified the house was fully engulfed when he arrived at the scene. He said first responders attempted to resuscitate Ms. Salemink in the back yard, while fire crews sprayed foam on the blaze. He said Ms. Salemink suffered first- and second-degree burns. She died in hospital.

The inquest continues Thursday. Ms. Salemink's daughter is scheduled to testify.

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