BURNABY, B.C. — A coroner's inquest has been told that a Vancouver rooming house where a fire killed two people in 2022 had a chained door, as relatives testified about the devastating impact of the blaze.
The inquest into the deaths of Mary Ann Garlow and Dennis Guay began Monday with family members describing their loss in the fire that gutted the Winters Hotel in Vancouver.
Garlow's niece, Misty Fredericks, told the inquest jury that her aunt's son John lived in the same building and jumped out of his third-storey room to escape the fire, shattering both legs.
"Mary was his caregiver, always looking out for his well-being, ensuring he was safe and fed. The love for her son is what saved John's life. It was Mary who made the ultimate motherly sacrifice by making sure her son jumped out the window before the last moments of her life," Fredericks said.
She said it would be too difficult for John to testify but he wanted the jury to know about his love for his mom, and that there were "chains on the door, the sprinklers didn't work and there was no way out."
She said people who knew Garlow said she loved the community that she found in the city's Downtown Eastside and that some people referred to her as their "street mom."
A statement from Guay's family read to the jury described his love of chess and backgammon and said his death left a "massive void."
The bodies of Garlow and Guay were found during demolition on the shell of the building more than a week after the fire in April 2022. Experts told the inquest that DNA from family members was used to confirm the identity of the victims.
The property manager originally said it was believed all residents had escaped.
Fredericks testified she was told her aunt's friends were concerned that she hadn't been seen, and missing person posters were created.
"(A friend) was at the site protesting and trying to stop demolition of the structural remains of the hotel. She had put some type of banner on the protective fencing and was yelling towards the machine operator to, 'Stop, she's in there,'" she said.
"Anybody who knew Mary and John would tell you that if Mary was in fact still alive, she absolutely would have made her way to her son's bedside at the hospital."
The jury heard that Guay had severe hearing loss since childhood and wore hearing aids and read lips to communicate.
A psychiatrist testified that Guay had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was stable and in good spirits at his last appointment days before the fire.
His family's statement said Guay loved music and spent years working in various local government positions in northern B.C.
"The grieving process for Dennis's family has been extremely hard, and his death has left a massive void," the family's lawyer, Rebecca Coad, read from the statement.
"A piece of the puzzle is missing and cannot be fixed. Life is taken day by day with the hope that one day they will come to terms with it."
Nearly 30 witnesses are scheduled to testify at the inquest, which is not to find fault but can lead to recommendations for preventing similar deaths in the future.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2024.
The Canadian Press