Sweatman ‘never backed down,’ inquest told

Coroner's Inquest into death of Search and Rescue volunteer opens in Nelson.

  • Nov. 20, 2012 6:00 p.m.

Greg Nesteroff/Nelson Star

The coroner’s inquest into the death of Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer Sheilah Sweatman opened Monday with an emotional statement from her mother, who described her “fierce but tender daughter.”

Through tears, Teddi Sweatman told the five-man, two-woman jury that Sheilah was “a strong-willed, dedicated” search and rescue member with “tremendous courage to face any physical or moral challenge.”

Sheilah, 29, drowned in the Goat River south of Creston on June 29, 2011 while trying to recover a submerged car. The inquest, before presiding coroner Matt Brown is hearing evidence to determine the circumstances around Sweatman’s death to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.

Testimony is scheduled through Thursday, while Friday has been set aside for jury deliberations.

Teddi Sweatman shared pictures of her daughter with the jury — a portrait was placed on an easel near their box — and provided them with a booklet with pictures of her house, garden, and examples of her artwork.

Teddi said it was “extremely important to tell about the vibrant and talented, strong-willed woman she was.” She said Sheilah was filed with “passion and compassion, and full of ideas and desire.”

Born in Winnipeg, Sheila was the fourth of five children. An active outdoorswoman, she loved the mountains and came to BC after university, living first at Big White and Vernon before coming to the West Kootenay.

She lived in Ymir, worked part-time at Nelson Animal Hospital, and became a member of Nelson Search and Rescue almost as soon as she arrived. It quickly became a big part of her life, her mother said.

“She loved a challenge and never back down from anything.”

Teddi told the inquest when her husband spoke with Sheilah the day before the tragic mission, she didn’t express any reservations about it.

They learned of her death when a police officer knocked on their door at 4 a.m.

The remainder of the morning heard testimony from WorkSafeBC investigator Nigel Corduff, whose report concluded Sheilah died after he leg became tangled in a steel rigging cable. She was pulled from her raft by the submerged car.

The testimony is being led by inquest counsel John Orr. Emergency Management BC, WorkSafeBC, Search and Rescue, and the Sweatman family also have legal representation.

A schedule provided by the BC Coroners Service says an RCMP witness will round out today’s testimony.

Tuesday’s witnesses include several search and rescue members and RCMP officers, as well as video taken of the incident. A pathologist and toxicologist will testify Wednesday, along with Sheila’s colleague on the raft, and the tow truck driver. Emergency management personnel will take the stand Friday, and then Sheilah’s father Wynn will conclude the testimony.

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