10/06/2014 10:19 EDT | Updated 12/06/2014 05:59 EST

Inquest into death of deaf teen told of communications problems at youth centre

SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. - An inquest has been told that staff at the Prince Albert Youth Residence had trouble communicating with a 16-year-old deaf boy who died after going into medical distress at the facility.

Dylan LaChance was taken by RCMP to the residence the day after a fight outside the high school on the Big River First Nation a year ago.

Brad Impey, a case management worker, told the inquest Monday that he interacted with LaChance almost daily.

He testified that early on, staff noticed LaChance had trouble communicating as they went over rules, policies and procedures he must follow while in the remand side of the facility.

Impey said one staff member tried sign language and others used exaggerated gestures or wrote on paper, but were still unable to communicate with LaChance.

The inquest, which is mandatory when anyone dies in custody, will conclude with recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Overall, LaChance was in good spirits until Sept. 15, according to testimony. LaChance left his remand cell to have lunch and played basketball outside that day despite gesturing he was feeling back pain.

LaChance indicated he’d been kicked in the back earlier and later that night a staff member got him an ice pack, Impey said.

The following day LaChance was taken to a doctor for that pain, who said he was suffering non-serious soft tissue damage.

In the days after, LaChance spent a lot of time in his room, but “lots of kids like to sleep their time away” while in custody even though they’re encouraged to take part in activities, Impey explained.

A week after he was admitted, a staff member found LaChance in medical distress. He later died in hospital.

Asked what he might have done differently, Impey said he has thought about it over and over but he can't think of what else could have been done.

Kimberly Jonathan, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, is acting as a representative for the LaChance family at the inquest and can question witnesses.

She pointed out that his sister attended one of the court appearances the boy made during his week at the youth residence, and noticed that he couldn't stand and was visibly in medical distress.

She said while she appreciates the staff’s effort to use sign language, it’s not clear if that person was fluent.

She said as a woman who does know sign language and has a brother who’s deaf, it’s important to ensure the special needs of the hearing impaired are met.