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Court finds Salemink not criminally responsible for death of his mother

Blake Salemink, a Coquitlam man accused of setting a house fire that kille dhis mother, has been found not guilty by reason of mental disorder.   - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
Blake Salemink, a Coquitlam man accused of setting a house fire that kille dhis mother, has been found not guilty by reason of mental disorder.
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Blake Salemink, a Coquitlam man accused of setting a house fire that killed his mother, has been found not guilty by reason of mental disorder.

Judge Paul Williamson said the 25-year-old accused had a lengthy history of mental illness and his condition appeared to be deteriorating before the April 19, 2010 incident.

"His behaviour and actions were confused in the lead-up to the fire," Williamson said Friday morning in New Westminster Supreme Court. "At the time of the offence, the accused was disorganized and lacked the ability to focus... He had frequent contact with police and mental health personnel."

The case will now be sent to the B.C. Review Board, where a panel of psychiatrists and lawyers will determine the course of treatment.

Salemink's history of mental illness dates back to 2004, when he was 17 years old. In 2008, he was sent to Royal Columbian Hospital suffering from a psychotic relapse and later spent time at Riverview Hospital. He was released from the hospital later that year under the care of Tri-Cities Mental Health despite the wishes of his mother, Colette Salemink, that he remain in supportive housing.

Salemink moved in with his mother and, in the months leading up to the fire, Williamson said police contact with the family increased. On April 17, two days before the incident, Coquitlam RCMP officers visited the home after Salemink threatened to kill his mother. The next day, he bought a bus ticket to Tijuana and the following morning, at around 4 a.m., he called a taxi to the home and asked to be driven to the U.S. border.

While en route, neighbours of the Burian Drive home began calling 911 with reports of a fire at Colette Salemink's home. By the time fire crews arrived, the house was engulfed in fire, with heavy smoke and flames venting through the roof.

The 59-year-old woman was found on the main floor of the home. Firefighters removed her and started medical treatment before taking her to hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Coquitlam Fire and Rescue Chief Tony Delmonico said at the time investigators believed she succumbed to the smoke and gas from the fire.

Salemink was then arrested in Salem, Ore., where he spent a brief time in hospital before being turned over to Canadian authorities.

He has resided in the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital at Colony Farm since his arrest.

Salemink's lawyer, Lois Salmond, said the incident could have been prevented had the provincial government invested more in mental health facilities and shelter for the mentally ill.

"This was a very tragic series of events," she said. "In this case, it is very obvious where the system failed."

Had there been more beds at Riverview, she said her client's mother would not have been compelled to take in her son and he could have been placed in the care of trained hospital staff.

"This woman was his caretaker and had sought help a number of times in the lead-up to this incident," Salmond said. "The government should take notice. This could have been avoided... if a shelter had been available and had there been more mental health resources available."

gmckenna@tricitynews.com

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