Duelling autopsy reports confuse findings in death of woman found at bottom of laundry chute
An autopsy report into the death of Nadine Machiskinic concluded she was severely intoxicated due to a cocktail of drugs in her system, which “would make it unlikely that she would have been able to climb into a laundry chute on her own.”
Saskatchewan forensic pathologist Shaun Ladham then concluded the “manner of her death should be listed as undetermined.”
But Saskatchewan’s chief coroner issued a final report calling the 29-year-old’s death accidental and police closed the case, leaving her family baffled.
The mystery of how she plunged to her death down the laundry chute at Regina’s Delta Hotel in Jan. 2015 remains, says her aunt, Delores Stevenson.
If Machiskinic wasn’t able to get into the laundry chute on her own, that makes an accident or suicide unlikely and points to a different conclusion, said Tony Merchant, a lawyer representing the family in a lawsuit against the hotel.
“The police should have been believing this is probably a homicide — it’s not an accident,” Merchant said.
Last month Saskatchewan’s Chief Coroner Kent Stewart released his final report, which concluded Machiskinic’s death was an accident. His conclusion seems to have been swayed by a second opinion he sought from an Alberta expert.
The second opinion, offered by Graham Jones, chief toxicologist with the Office of the Medical Examiner in Alberta, cast doubt on Ladham’s finding that the cause of death was undetermined.
That’s because Jones said he couldn’t be confident that Machiskinic was unable to get into the laundry chute on her own.
Jones wrote “given Ms Machiskinic’s history of chronic alcohol and drug abuse and the fact she was prescribed relatively high doses of methadone, I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that she would have been incapable of climbing into the laundry chute without assistance.”
Original autopsy report altered
Saskatchewan’s chief coroner’s office said the forensic pathologist revised the autopsy report “based on the additional expertise.”
‘You never, when you have multiple experts, just submerge the other expert. So it’s very, everything about it is very suspicious’ – Tony Merchant, Family’s lawyer
Stevenson obtained a copy of the original pathologist’s report that declared her niece’s cause of death undetermined from the coroner and shared it with CBC’s iTeam.
The coroner explained to Stevenson in a follow-up letter that he provided that report accidentally.
“I recognized that the autopsy report I provided you did not contain the reference to the Alberta report,” wrote Stewart.
He didn’t explain why a second opinion was necessary, but an email from his office explained “it is common for a coroner’s service to seek a second opinion or additional expertise to inform the findings of a complex investigation.
The amended report does not acknowledge that it was altered, does not contain the pathologist’s original opinion and doesn’t explain why it was replaced.
Merchant finds this troubling.
“You never, when you have multiple experts, just submerge the other expert. So it’s very, everything about it is very suspicious,” said Merchant.
In an email, CBC asked the coroner’s office why the report was altered and why that alteration wasn’t explained in the final report. The coroner’s office didn’t address those questions.
Why did the coroner conclude ‘accident’?
Stevenson wonders how the coroner could have concluded “accident” given that both autopsy reports raise doubts as to whether Machiskinic was even capable of going down the laundry chute on her own.
She said given the many unanswered questions throughout the investigation she wants to know “why they would have closed the case and why the coroner would have ruled the death accidental.”
‘The preponderance of the evidence would indicate that this is an accident.” – Kent Stewart, Saskatchewan’s Chief Coroner
The iTeam put that question to the coroner, and he cited the work of police to justify his conclusion.
“I’m saying that the preponderance of the evidence would indicate that this is an accident,” said Stewart. “And that’s based on the fact that the Regina Police Service has investigated to the extent that they have indicated that they have been unable to find any evidence of foul play.”
Yet Stewart acknowledged “there’s no question that there are some unanswered questions.”
Unanswered questions remain
For example, the police investigation shows that at least five people appear to have interacted with Machiskinic in the last minutes of her life, yet police have only identified one of them.
Surveillance video shows Machiskinic got on an elevator with two men just a few minutes before she fell to her death. Police don’t know who they are.
They acknowledge they didn’t start looking for the men until one year after she died.
A witness saw a woman they believe was Machiskinic on the 10th floor a few minutes before she died. That witness said she was with two “kids” and was banging on doors yelling about a fire.
Police have never identified those “kids.”
“The fact is no one can say for certain… what happened in those last few minutes,” said Elizabeth Popowich, a spokesperson for the Regina Police Service.
“So we only know the parts that we know about. And there are also some details that don’t necessarily fit into a neat chronology. I would suggest probably every case is like that.”
Stevenson says she’s more convinced than ever that authorities failed in this investigation.
“She was a human being,” said Stevenson. “She deserves a proper investigation into her death, not a bunch of holes and gaps that can’t be explained.”
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