John Morrison is looking for answers. Answers to how his brother, Dr. Roger Morrison, could have taken his life sometime in early November. John doesn’t believe Roger could have committed suicide, and if he did, he wants to be convinced that’s the case.
“He might have taken his own life, but I just don’t know,” John told me during a lengthy conversation about his brother’s death.
It was a conversation that went over many issues – Roger’s known steroid use, his attempts to revive his medical career, his relationship with his wife, and questions John had about the RCMP and Coroners Service’s investigation into the death, which he thinks should have included an autopsy that was cancelled at the last minute.
“A thorough investigation,” he said. “Answers to questions that make sense.”
Dr. Roger Morrison was found dead in his home on River Bluff Road in the late afternoon of Friday, Nov. 9, 2012.
Having heard reports the RCMP were investigating a suspicious death I drove to the scene on the private, gated road. There, I was greeted by several RCMP officers who were putting police tape across the driveway to his home.
I followed up with police later that evening and Sgt. Kim Hall told me the death was being treated as a suicide. In general, the Times Review does not report on suicides unless there is an overriding public interest; after an editorial discussion, we opted not to publish a story we had prepared on the incident.
Dr. Roger Morrison. Times Review File photo.
Last week, Morrison’s death was back in the news when the CBC reported that an autopsy on Roger Morrison was cancelled at the last minute. In the story, which led of a three-part series on a decline in autopsy rates in B.C., John cast suspicion on the nature of the death, suggesting his brother might have been murdered.
“The reason I got in touch with the CBC wasn’t to say it wasn’t a suicide,” John told me. Instead, it was to get answers to the many questions he has about Roger’s death.
He’s especially disturbed at the fact an autopsy was cancelled. The CBC ran a report on The National saying the lack of an autopsy means someone might have gotten away with murder.
It’s a suggestion that Staff-Sgt. Jacquie Olsen of the Revelstoke RCMP denies.
“We have no doubt in our collective investigational minds that this is a suicide,” she told the Times Review.
As for the lack of an autopsy, she said the coroner makes the decision to conduct one or not. “It’s his investigation and if he wants to have an autopsy, he can, and if he doesn’t, they don’t,” Olsen said.
“If I felt there was a reason to believe there was suspicious circumstances and there was a need, then I would have called the coroner and discussed it further and made sure our investigational needs were met.”
The situation has presented itself with one concern – the fact that Tim Loader, the community coroner for Revelstoke, did not attend the scene, one that by several accounts was quite bloody and disturbing.
One possible reason that was suggested to the Times Review is that Loader was out all night the night before investigating a fatal crash west of Revelstoke. When the call came to him about Morrison’s death, he made the decision – based on information provided by the RCMP – that it was not necessary for him to return to Revelstoke for an investigation.
Loader did not return our call for an interview but Barb McLintock, a spokesperson for the B.C. Coroners Service, said sometimes situations beyond the Coroners Service control prevent them from attending a scene.
“In areas where there’s only one coroner, occasionally we do miss,” she said. “Obviously this was a very unfortunate one to have missed.”
She would not comment specifically on Morrison’s case, citing that it was still an open investigation.
The role of the coroner is to investigate any sudden or unexpected death and determine the cause, whether it be natural, accidental, suicide, homicide or undetermined. The BC Coroners Service has 32 full-time coroners and 75 community coroners that work on an as-needed basis. Statistics show the BC Coroners Service is conducting fewer autopsies and has had its budget cut to $11.8 million in 2012 from $17.3 million in 2008.
Revelstoke has not had a coroner for a number of years; instead Loader has been commuting from Golden to scenes of unexpected deaths in Revelstoke and the surrounding area.
McLintock said coroners need a minimum load of 40 cases to remain effective. In Revelstoke, the were only 11 cases where the coroner was called in.
“It’s way below our minimum,” she said. “There has to be a certain number to keep up their skills and their talents. Eleven is just way too low.”
Where the regional coroner is based is simply luck of the draw; when the current coroner leaves the position the next one could be based in Revelstoke, depending on circumstances.
When asked if a coroner could have been sent from somewhere else, like Vernon, McLintock said she didn’t know the answer to that question.
Olsen said she doesn’t have any issues working with a Golden-based coroner, but said the lack of a coroner in Revelstoke does add times to investigations.
A common example that affects the general public is fatal motor vehicle incidents on the Trans-Canada Highway. If there is a fatality, a coroner is often required to attend the accident scene. The delays often add several hours to highway closures when travel time and investigation time are added together.
“Any time that’s added on, rather than dealing with it from local resources, it adds time, which adds a lot of extra stress in a number of different ways,” said Olsen. “Would it be better to have a coroner here – absolutely – but we don’t and he gets here as fast as he can.”
Would the presence of a coroner on scene made a difference in Dr. Morrison’s case?
At the time of his death, Morrison was in professional, marital and legal trouble. Staff-Sgt. Olsen confirmed he was facing assault charges when he died.
Roger’s brother John gave me a litany of reasons he doesn’t believe his brother committed suicide, and some other possibilities as to what happened – that his brother might have been coerced into killing himself, or that someone killed Roger and made it look like a suicide.
John said he and his brother had become estranged over the past five years and weren’t speaking but he doesn’t believe his brother would have killed himself and he wants answers. He wants to know why the autopsy was cancelled and thinks an autopsy would have shed light on whether or not his brother killed himself or was murdered. That’s why he went to the CBC with the story.
He presented the CBC with a letter from BC Corrections advising Dr. Morrison that a man was recently released on bail with the condition to stay away from Dr. Morrison. The letter advised Dr. Morrison to call the police if there was any contact. That man, Michael Darrell Robinson, has a lengthy criminal record, mostly for minor crimes. For John, the letter raised alarm bells.
“I’m not insisting Roger’s death wasn’t by his own hand,” he said. “It’s not as simple and as cut and dry as that.”
The RCMP was very firm in their determination the death was a suicide. When asked directly if there was any suspicion Robinson was connected to Dr. Morrison’s death, Sgt. Kim Hall, who attended the scene, said, “We have no reason to be suspicious that this was anything but a suicide.”
Barb McLintock said the BC Coroners Service continues to investigate the death and will be issuing a report soon.