NEWS

Homeless Man's Pleas To Call 911 For Drowning Friend At Regina's Wascana Lake Ignored, Woman Says

09/13/2011 01:27 EDT | Updated 11/13/2011 05:12 EST
Flickr: Cherrysweetdeal
REGINA - A man spent half an hour trying to get help for a friend who disappeared while swimming in a man-made lake near the Saskatchewan legislature, but his pleas went ignored, says a woman who did call 911.

Lani Elliott said she was taking pictures in the garden at the front of the building Saturday when a distraught and dishevelled aboriginal man approached her.

The man said his friend had just died in Wascana Lake, a few steps away, and asked Elliott to call 911.

"I was stunned because people don't normally come up to you and say that, but I immediately called 911 for him," Elliott said Tuesday.

"It was evident to me from his demeanour that he wasn't kidding. He was very upset so I called 911."

Elliott said what happened next was even more disconcerting.

The operator asked the woman when the distraught man had last seen his friend. He told her 30 minutes earlier.

"When I asked him why it took him that long to phone 911, he started crying and he said that no one would help him. He had been asking people in the park to please call 911 or if he could use their phone and no one would help him."

The man said no one believed him.

There is no swimming allowed in the lake.

It was a beautiful sunny day. The temperature hovered around 30 C. The park was busy with people out for a stroll.

Elliott wonders if things could have gone differently.

"You know, I don't know what goes through people's minds," she said.

"But my question is this: if he had been clean shaven, if he had been well-dressed, if he had been non-aboriginal and he had come up to them and said, 'My friend just went under in the water,' would they have believed him then?

"It's too bad that that had to happen and it's too bad that that many people dismissed him based on what he looked like. Yes, he looked like a homeless person. Yes, he was aboriginal. But at the same time he was also a human being and he deserved to be treated with the same amount of dignity and respect that we ourselves would expect."

A police spokeswoman said divers and fire rescue personnel arrived within a couple of minutes after getting the call.

"The response was immediate, but the call didn't come in to police until the man had been in the water for, we believe, about 30 minutes," said Elizabeth Popowich.

"I'm not aware of an explanation for it and I wouldn't want to speculate as to why it took that time."

The body of Darlyn Boyd Johns of no fixed address was found the next day. There is no criminal investigation into his death.

Elliott said she cried when she heard the body was pulled from the water.

"I was extremely upset because I kept thinking if just one person had listened to him when he initially asked for help, maybe that man could have been saved. It only took police, fire and rescue two minutes to get to the lake once I made that call.

"Two minutes," Elliott said.

"It took him 30 minutes to find somebody who would listen to him."

Shawn Fraser, executive director of Carmichael Outreach in Regina, said Johns was a regular at the centre and believed to be homeless.

"He seemed like a nice enough guy," said Fraser, who noted that Johns often volunteered for community cleanups.

"I think he was part of a community that lived a pretty rough and tumble life, but he wasn't out to hurt anyone in particular that I knew about."

Fraser said there is a divide between racial and class lines in the city. He pointed out that about 85 per cent of people who come to Carmichael Outreach for help are aboriginal.

But Fraser didn't want to guess as to why a 911 call wasn't made sooner.

"It's important not to point fingers at a time like this ... to remember that this guy was a real person...he has family and he has a girlfriend and he has friends and...there's a community around him that is kind of impacted by it," said Fraser.

"But I think there's a responsibility...for all of us to...take ownership of the poverty in our city. There's a difference between being a poor person and a bad person."