TORONTO — The death of a woman found in a driveway after neighbours failed to respond to her desperate calls for help on a frigid Monday morning has ignited the rage of the public.
Police called the 66-year-old woman’s death a tragedy that might have had a different outcome, if only someone had called them in time.
A newspaper delivery woman found the woman — who had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease — at about 5:30 a.m. Monday on Kennaley Cres. in the Brimley Road and McNicoll Avenue area. The woman was just a block away from her home on Cleadon Road.
She had no pulse.
It’s believed the woman had wandered away from her home in -20 degree temperatures around 2 a.m., police said.
Sgt. David Dube said some neighbours heard the woman crying out in distress in the driveway, but no one called 911 or came to her aid.
“I can tell you around 2 a.m., through our investigation, there’s a couple of neighbours in the area who did hear a scream,” said Dube.
“I think one of them actually saw this person in a bit of distress but didn’t know what was going on but did not call us.”
Police believe the woman was distraught and looking for help and do not suspect foul play, he added.
Finger marks could be seen on a vehicle in the driveway where the woman had likely tried to pull herself up off of the ground, police said.
There were also scratch marks on the screen door to the home, and Dube said he suspects the woman may have tried to get inside.
The veteran officer, who’s been on the force for 24 years, said he was “somewhat surprised” no one called police, noting it is a good community. He urged people to call police immediately if they hear someone screaming for help.
“If you’re going to be a community member I think we have an obligation to look after one another and do the right thing,” said Dube.
“I think if someone would have called the police right away there could have been a different outcome.”
Rosamund St. Bernard, who said her driveway is where the woman was found, said she and her husband Arthur did not know the woman. She said the bedrooms in their house are in the back and they didn’t hear any commotion.
“Unfortunately we heard nothing. Only when police knocked at the door and they came in we realized something had happened,” said St. Bernard, who added they would have helped the woman if they knew.
“We feel bad to think that that happened right here. Just a call might have saved that woman’s life. But we didn’t hear.”
St. Bernard, who has lived in the area for a long time, said it is a good neighbourhood and she’s surprised people didn’t call police.
Reaction from the public ranged from sympathy for the victim’s husband to recognition of the difficulties of caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s to outrage over the neighbours who didn’t help the woman.
“Shame on the ’neighbours’ who heard cries of distress but did nothing. A woman is crying out in distress and they do nothing? It takes nothing to call 911,” writes one person online.
Another writes “How heartless can people be… this a sad and disgusting situation.”
“If you are caring for a beloved spouse who has Alzheimer’s, this is probably your biggest fear,” said another writer.
Yet another asks, “Have we lost our compassion towards one another as human beings? It’s truly sad and my condolences to the family, and hope that this is a wake-up call to all of us.”
“Truly a sick society when someone can freeze to death within earshot of their neighbours without anyone taking the trouble to dial 911,” writes another.
The woman’s husband had last seen his wife about 2 a.m. When he woke up and she wasn’t there, he called police and a search was launched about 4:45 a.m., Dube said.
When she was found, the woman wasn’t wearing her coat or glasses and had no vital signs.
“Our officers tried CPR. Due to her condition, the hypothermia, the chest compressions were difficult,” said Dube.
The woman was taken to hospital but was pronounced dead at 7:05 a.m.
Toronto had been under an extreme cold weather alert since Saturday but the city lifted the alert midmorning Monday.
The city sends out the alerts when the temperature drops below -15 C, with or without the windchill.