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B.C. coroner’s inquest jury begins deliberations about deadly Winters Hotel fire

VANCOUVER — The jury in a coroner’s inquest into the Winters Hotel fire in Vancouver two years ago has been stood down to deliberate its recommendations about the deadly blaze.

For two weeks the inquest has heard evidence about the fire that killed residents Mary Ann Garlow and Dennis Guay, including testimony that the sprinkler system wasn’t operating because of a smaller fire three days earlier.

Presiding Coroner John Knox told jurors they can only make recommendations based on evidence presented at the inquest, and not “blame or vindicate any person or agency.” 

Knox told the jury they’re also not allowed to make “findings of legal responsibility” or make any legal conclusions about the fire that destroyed the Gastown rooming hotel on April 11, 2022. 

He told the jury to make two verdicts, one for each death, and make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

He recounted evidence given by police and firefighters about how Garlow and Guay both died as a result of an “unintended accident,” rather than homicide, suicide or natural causes. 

The Winters Hotel was one of approximately 150 single-room-occupancy buildings for some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents, who the jury heard are often on the verge of homelessness.

Jurors were told that a few recommendations targeting “broader failures of systems and standards” are more effective than numerous recommendations that address “unique circumstances.” 

The bodies of Garlow, 63, and Guay, 53, were found during demolition of the hotel more than a week after the fire.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2024

The Canadian Press

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