Jacobus Jonker was a volunteer rugby coach at Smithers Secondary School. He died while in police custody four-and-a-half years ago. A public inquest into his death is now underway at the courthouse in Smithers. File photo

Public inquest into rugby coach’s death begins

Jacobus Jonker died after a police-involved altercation in 2015

A public inquest into the death of 53-year-old Jacobus Jonker is now underway.

Jonker died on Feb. 21, 2015 following an altercation that took place a week earlier between police officers and a civilian jail guard at the Smithers RCMP detachment cell block.

The inquest was scheduled by the BC Coroner’s Service and is being presided over by Susan Barth.

It will take place at the courthouse in Smithers and is scheduled to run until at least Sept. 17.

Addressing the courtroom, inquest council Christopher Godwin outlined the schedule for the inquest.

The jury will hear testimony from 19 individuals.

Eighteen of those testimonies will be done in person, with one remote witness scheduled.

The jury is scheduled to hear testimony from Cornelia Jonker (wife of the deceased) this afternoon, as well as a neighbour who witnessed the incident.

The jury will also to hear testimony from three RCMP officers present at the scene (scheduled for Tuesday) and the jail guard present at the Smithers RCMP Detachment’s cell block (scheduled for Wednesday).

They will also hear from an emergency room physician who examined Jonker before he was flown to Victoria General Hospital (VGH), as well as the doctor at VGH who pronounced Jonker dead at approximately 4:24 p.m. on Feb. 21, 2015.

Barth began the inquest by instructing the jury on what was expected of them, including making potential recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.

They are also being asked to classify the death as one of five causes: natural, accidental, suicide, homicide or undetermined.

Barth also took the opportunity to remind the courtroom that the inquest is not meant to assign blame or fault, but rather to gather the facts surrounding why a death took place.

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