Remembering the sight of Taylor Van Diest’s battered form lying on a hospital stretcher brought a Vernon physician near to tears as he testified at the trial of the man accused of killing the teen.
Dr. Michael Concannon was on-call in Vernon Jubilee’s Emergency Room Halloween 2011 and he told the jury Tuesday that nothing short of stopping the assault would have saved Van Diest that night, although he tried.
Concannon first learned he’d be treating the 18-year-old when BC Ambulance called in a report of a girl found by railroad tracks in Armstrong. From the little information he gleaned, he assumed he’d be dealing with someone who had passed out drunk or, at worst, someone who had been hit by a train.
“What I was faced with was a gravely injured young woman,” Concannon said, noting that the zombie make-up Van Diest was wearing made his initial appraisal of the situation a bit challenging.
“What I saw when I looked at her was a young woman dressed for Halloween, on a stretcher, unconscious.”
Van Diest was unable to breathe on her own when she arrived, so Concannon intubated her.
Providing a breathing tube was “more challenging” than what he usually faces due to the fact Van Diest’s airway had filled with blood and was misshaped, resulting from her injuries.
“When her neck brace was removed there was a deformity on her neck,” he said, adding it was an injury from her assailant.
“It appeared that her throat had been pushed in.”
Concannan also noted ligature marks, which he reported to nearby Mounties as evidence she hadn’t sustained her injuries, accidentally.
To assess the extent of Van Diest’s head injuries, Concannon told the jury he applied the Glasgow Coma Scale. It’s a scoring system used to describe the level of conciousness in a person following a traumatic brain injury, and Van Diest was assigned the lowest score possible.
Other indications that she’d suffered a “devastating brain injury” were apparent as well.
“Pupils are a window into your brain,” Concannon said, noting that a normal young person’s pupils measure from five to six millimetres.
“Taylor’s pupils were big… one was reacting sluggish, and one wasn’t reacting at all. All were signs of traumatic brain injury.”
A catscan later confirmed those findings.
When asked by Matthew Foerster’s defence lawyer Lisa Jean Helps whether one injury was more significant than the other, he replied that Van Diest suffered a “multitude” of serious injuries.
When Helps narrowed down the question to head injuries alone, Concannon said that the skull fracture was more significant.
Throughout the statement Concannon fought back tears, while the Van Diest family and their supporters openly cried.
Outside the courthouse, they admitted it was hard to hear.
“It’s extremely tough,” said Raymond Van Diest, Taylor’s dad. “Moreso today, hearing about the level of injuries. It’s hard.”
Following Concannon’s testimony, Supreme Court Justice Peter Rogers dismissed the jury for the afternoon session and told them to come back Thursday morning. The Crown’s case has concluded, and it remains unknown whether the defence will decide to call any evidence.