injusticebusters logo

Sonia Keepness

Family of inmate sues governments
Overdose in jail killed woman

PRINCE ALBERT (CP) -- The family of a woman who died in jail after drinking vomit laced with drugs is suing the federal and provincial governments.

The family of Sonia Faith Keepness filed the lawsuit last week.

The statement of claim alleges that staff at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre, where Keepness was an inmate at the time of her death, knew prisoners were abusing the drug methadone.

Methadone is used to treat people addicted to opiates, such as heroin.

"We've got a mistake," Greg Curtis, the family's lawyer, said Tuesday. "(And) satisfaction for the family is going to be quite important."

Keepness, 37, who was not on the methadone program at the correctional centre, died from a drug overdose on Feb. 19, 2002.

She had taken the drug after two other inmates threw up and then gave the methadone-laced vomit to her to drink.

A pathologist who testified at the inquiry into Keepness' death in March, 2003, said her death was most likely caused by a combination of methadone and an anti-anxiety drug.

Keepness' death was ruled an accidental overdose by a coroner's jury in 2003.

The inquest into her death found that staff at Pine Grove had been told to keep a closer eye on inmates after 10 incident reports into methadone use had been filed in the year before Keepness's death.

The institution later changed its policy regarding methadone patients in light of her death to ensure that inmates on the methadone program are watched for at least one hour after taking the drug.

The coroner's jury looking into Keepness' death made 14 recommendations in the case, including a thorough review of methadone programs in all correctional centres.

Andrew Dinsmore, a spokesperson with Saskatchewan Justice, said all 14 of the recommendations from the coroner's inquest into Keepness' death have since been implemented.

He would not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.


No overdoses a priority: Inmate death to methadone a concern: official

Corrections and Public Safety officials are eager to find ways to prevent inmates from dying of methadone overdoses, a spokesman said Tuesday.

"It's a pretty tragic situation so we want to do everything we can to keep people safe," said Terry Lang, assistant deputy minister for Corrections and Public Safety.

Sonia Faith Keepness, 37, died Feb. 19, 2002 at Pine Grove Correctional Centre of a drug overdose.

At the conclusion of an inquest into her death, a coroner's jury made 14 recommendations Friday that included a thorough review of the methadone programs in all correctional facilities in Saskatchewan.

Medical experts testified last week at the inquest that she likely died either as a result of an overdose of methadone, or a combination of methadone and other drugs that also shut down the automatic fail-safe mechanism that keeps people breathing.

Two Pine Grove inmates on the institution's methadone program have admitted that after taking the liquid drug, which is mixed with a powdered fruit drink, they regurgitated methadone-laced vomit into a container and gave Keepness the contents to ingest.

Lang said more inmates are using methadone to help them deal with a drug addiction and the institution wants to focus on the methadone services the province provides, he said.

Several of the recommendations, including educating inmates and staff regarding addictions and the use of illicit drugs, will involve working with Saskatchewan Health and the health regions, said Lang.

A plan mapping out the government's response to the recommendations will take at least a month to develop, he said.

Lang pointed out that Pine Grove has made changes since Keepness's death.

Staff now make sure that inmates on the methadone program are kept in a room and under observation for an hour after they take their daily methadone, he said.


Drugs likely killed inmate: Methadone, librium found in system: expert

Lowell Keepness says he has had a difficult time since his mother died last February.

He listened to most of the inquest proceedings Monday into the death of Sonia Faith Keepness, 37, who died Feb. 19, 2002, while an inmate at Pine Grove.

"It's been very hard on me," he said outside Court of Queen's Bench in Prince Albert, where the inquest is taking place.

Nico Brits, the pathologist who conducted Keepness's autopsy, testified before a six-member jury Monday that the woman's death was most likely caused by a combination of methadone and librium, a tranquilizer with sedative-type effects.

Keepness was found dead on her cell bed.

She was serving a sentence on drug charges.

A quantity of methadone and librium, along with a few other drugs Brits doesn't believe played a part in her death, were found in her system after death.

Pine Grove inmates Candace Dawn Ahenakew and Tanya Mae Cappo have admitted they went for their dose of methadone at the jail clinic, then returned to their cells and vomited the liquid drug into a container for Keepness.

They have since been sentenced for drug trafficking.

The methadone program is for inmates addicted to opiates, such as heroin and dilaudid, but only if those inmates were already on the program before entering the facility.

Another inmate, Redenah Faith Thomas, has pleaded guilty to trafficking librium to Keepness.

The jury also heard from Staff Sgt. John Hareuther of the Prince Albert City Police that it was a common occurrence for inmates to receive their dose and then vomit it for other inmates to consume. In return, the inmates received favours, said Hareuther.

Brits said Keepness was a "naive" user of methadone, and had been taken off a methadone program.

In this case, a naive user refers to someone who has not used methadone in a while.

Members of the jury and presiding coroner Hugh Harradence were told that the drugs can stop a person from breathing.

Otherwise, Brits said Keepness appeared to be in good health.

A substance in her blood stream indicated Keepness had a one-time dose over a short period of time, said John Hudson, who is in charge of the toxicology section at the RCMP's forensic lab in Regina, where a quantity of Keepness's blood, urine, eye fluid and liver were sent for analysis.

That is consistent with a naive user, he said.

Hudson, who qualified his remarks by saying he was not aware of Keepness's drug history, said methadone is likely the primary cause of death.

"If the person is a new user, that (methadone) could be the straight cause," he said.

A new user, as well as one who had been off methadone for an extended period of time, would not have the same tolerance for the drug as someone who was on methadone, he said.

In the early stages of methadone usage, it's important to control the doses, said Hudson.

"If you're not careful, it can accumulate in the body to toxic levels," he said.

The inquest continues today, when six to 10 witnesses are expected. It is scheduled to wrap up Thursday.

According to the Coroners Act, an inquest must be held whenever an inmate dies in a jail, penitentiary, lock-up or correctional facility.

Inquests are meant to determine when and where a death occurred and the medical cause of death. In addition, the coroner's jury may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.


Drugs from vomit helped cause death: inquest

PRINCE ALBERT -- Methadone ingested by Pine Grove Correctional Centre inmate Sonia Faith Keepness by drinking the vomit of fellow inmates was a likely contributor to her death, a coroner's inquest heard Monday.

Nico Brits, the pathologist who conducted Keepness's autopsy, testified before a six-member jury that the combination of methadone and Librium, a tranquillizer with sedative-type effects, likely proved fatal.

Keepness, 37, died Feb. 19, 2002, at Pine Grove. She was found dead on her cell bed. She was serving a sentence on drug charges.

Methadone and Librium, along with a few other drugs Brits doesn't believe played a part in her death, were found in her system after death.

Pine Grove inmates Candace Dawn Ahenakew and Tanya Mae Cappo, Keepness's niece, have admitted they went for their dose of methadone at the jail clinic, then returned to their cells and vomited the liquid drug into a container for Keepness.

They have since been sentenced for drug trafficking.

The methadone program is for inmates addicted to opiates, such as heroin and dilaudid, but only if those inmates were already on the program prior to entering the facility.

Another inmate, Redenah Faith Thomas, has pleaded guilty to trafficking Librium to Keepness.

The jury also heard from Staff Sgt. John Hareuther of the Prince Albert city police, who said it was a common occurrence for inmates to receive their dose and then vomit it for other inmates to consume.

In return, the inmates received favours, said Hareuther.

Brits said Keepness was a "naive" user of methadone, and had been taken off a methadone program. In this case, a naive user refers to someone who has not used methadone in a while.

Members of the jury and coroner Hugh Harradence were told the drugs can stop a person from breathing. Otherwise, Brits said Keepness appeared to be in good health.

A substance in her blood stream indicated Keepness had a one-time dose over a short period of time, said John Hudson, who is in charge of the toxicology section at the RCMP's forensic lab in Regina, where samples of Keepness's blood, urine, eye fluid and liver were sent for analysis.

Hudson, who qualified his remarks by saying he was not aware of Keepness's drug history, said methadone is likely the primary cause of death.

"If the person is a new user, that (methadone) could be the straight cause," he said.

A new user, as well as one who had been off methadone for an extended period of time, would not have the same tolerance for the drug as someone who was on methadone, he said.

In the early stages of methadone usage, it's important to control the doses, said Hudson. "If you're not careful, it can accumulate in the body to toxic levels."

The inquest at Prince Albert Court of Queen's Bench continues today, when six to 10 witnesses are expected. It is scheduled to wrap up Thursday.

An inquest must be held whenever an inmate dies in custody.


Inquests are meant to determine when and where a death occurred and the medical cause of death. In addition, the coroner's jury may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.