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Alberta family frustrated by autopsy delay in B.C. following fatal crash on Highway 1

An Alberta family has been left frustrated by what they call bureaucratic deficiencies in British Columbia surrounding autopsies.

Lance Pottruff, 70, lives in High River, Alta. and found out on Aug. 5, that his youngest son Craig had been involved in a head-on collision along the Trans-Canada Highway between Golden and Revelstoke that afternoon.

Craig, 42, was a passenger in a vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene.

“He lived life large,” said Pottruff.

“The first night you don't sleep, in fact, you don't sleep for a whole lot of nights afterwards actually.”

Pottruff says he had planned on arranging funeral plans and taking care of his son’s estate following his death, but an autopsy had yet to be completed in the hours following Craig’s death.

“After 12 days, we had the autopsy,” he explained.

“But before that, you're just adrift. You can't do anything. You can’t get death certificates. You can’t plan the thing.”

Pottruff was left floored by the time it took for the BC Coroners Service to release Craig’s body back to his family.

He says in most provinces, it takes 24 to 48 hours and sometimes even 72 hours for one to be completed.

“I don't understand why they can't do what the other provinces are doing,” said Pottruff.

Pottruff lost his first wife, Craig’s mother in a car crash 25 years ago.

“With him being an Alberta resident, why couldn't he be moved to Calgary?” said Pottruff.

The BC Coroners Service says autopsies are generally completed within a few days to facilitate families’ funeral planning.

“Occasionally, we experience delays due to caseload and availability of resources,” said spokesperson Ryan Panton.

“We acknowledge the concerns brought forth by the Pottruff family and regret the additional grief caused by resource challenges with our post mortem diagnostic service at the time of Craig Pottruff’s death.“

Pottruff says he was told if he had filled out a form he could have requested to have Craig’s body transported to Alberta for an autopsy, but that was never offered.

“Across Canada, jurisdiction for investigating a death lies with the province or territory where the death occurred,” said Panton.

“British Columbia and Alberta do not have an agreement or MOU for transferring a deceased person from one province to another for postmortem testing.”

A spokesperson for Alberta’s ministry of justice concurred that, in general, the death investigation is typically done in the province where the death occurred.

"Typically, the (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner) performs post-mortem examinations (i.e., physical autopsy examinations) of the deceased within a few working days of arriving at the office. This enables the release of the deceased to the care of the next of kin via the funeral home of their choice within a day or two of arriving at the OCME," said justice spokesperson Katherine Thompson.

On Aug. 5, Revelstoke RCMP and BC Highway Patrol responded to a collision around 1 p.m. involving a Kia Rio and Ford Fusion along Highway 1 near the Loop Brook Campground, just west of Roger’s Pass in Glacier National Park.

At the time, the BC Highway Patrol says the initial investigation found that the west bound Kia Rio crossed the centre line into the east bound lane, colliding with the Ford Fusion.

“A passenger in the Kia Rio was pronounced deceased at the scene while two occupants of the Ford Fusion sustained non-life-threatening injuries,” said the BC Highway Patrol in a release.

The service says investigations can take more than a year to complete, due to the requirement to collect expert reports, which take time to complete.

The Pottruff family found out that in the 12 days following his death, Craig was lying in the morgue at the Revelstoke hospital, before being transported to Vernon for the autopsy and again transported to a Salmon Arm funeral home.

The Pottruff family had a celebration for Craig with friends in Calgary and High River, before he was laid to rest next to his mother in Moose Jaw, Sask, where the family is originally from.

Craig’s older brothers Chad and Keith were devastated to learn of their brother’s passing.

“He truly made a difference to every person that came to him that he met,” said Chad.

Keith recalls a story from 2013, when the pair of them attended a CFL playoff game in Saskatchewan, before coming back to Calgary for the Western Conference Final.

Keith says he looked in his wallet and realized he didn’t have any money to purchase a Grey Cup ticket that day, but Craig told him not to worry, as the pair would be going together.

He says following Craig’s death most companies allow for bereavement, with his work offering five days for the death of a sibling.

He adds that the delay in the autopsy made the process that much more difficult.

“Through the process, having it be dragged out. I've had to take extra time off to go through that,” he said.

The BC Coroners Service says on its website that it will investigate all unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths including those relating to car crashes.

“If you look at the bigger picture, something can happen to a person in another province, that maybe have to be transported from Alberta back to their home and vice versa,” said Chad.

“You would like to think that maybe this would be something that governments and legislators would actually come together and realize, let's do something good for all.”

Lance Pottruff says he hopes the BC Coroners Service looks at changing its practices, so other families don’t have to suffer.

“Some people say if one more person can be helped, (well) If only one more person gets helped, this is a failure,” he said.

“I want everybody to be helped with it. Just fix it.” Top Stories

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