Coroner's inquest jury can't agree on what caused Ryan Donard's death

The five-person jury that served on a coroner's inquest into the death of Ryan Donard can't agree on what caused the Saskatchewan man's death. 

Nor has the jury made any recommendations to prevent deaths like Donard's in the future. 

Donard reportedly fled from the RCMP in Stony Rapids, Sask., early in the morning on Feb. 25, 2017. He ran into the frigid waters of the Fond du Lac River and was believed to have drowned, according to an RCMP news release at the time. 

The 31-year-old was never seen again until his body was recovered from the water five months later. 

A coroner's inquest into Donard's death began Monday in Black Lake, located about 21 kilometres southeast of Stony Rapids. The family had requested that the inquest be held in Black Lake. 

Fifteen witnesses were scheduled to testify this week. 

Autopsy was done

The jury was asked to rule both on Donard's cause of death as well as classify the death as either an accident, a homicide, a suicide, a death by natural causes or "undetermined."

Instead, according to a jury findings report issued Thursday, "the jury was unable to reach a consensus" on either the cause of death or the classification. A majority of jurors must need to agree before a finding can be reached.

A full autopsy, complete with toxicology results, was conducted on Donard's body. Typically, inquest juries hear testimony from forensic pathologists.  

What we knew before the inquest

According to the RCMP, officers were called at around 5:15 a.m. that February 2017 to a home in Stony Rapids because of a complaint.

When they arrived, Donard fled on foot and headed into the river, police said. 

"The male subsequently ended up in a body of water and disappeared beneath the surface," said an RCMP news release. 

Donard reportedly never came out of the water. 

Earlier this year, CBC News verified with the RCMP that Donard's body was found five months after his disappearance, on June 25, about four kilometres downstream and west of Stony Rapids.

The RCMP didn't publicly reported the body's recovery until earlier this month. The confirmation came in a news release issued by Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice, which handles communications for the province's coroner's service.

"A body was spotted in Fond du Lac Lake by a float plane and recovered from the water. The body was positively identified as that of Ryan Donard, age 31," according to the news release.

Informing the public

Coroner's inquests, which are not criminal trials but rather fact-finding missions, are held for one to four of the following reasons:

  • To clarify what caused a death.

  • To inform the public of circumstances surrounding a death.

  • To bring dangerous practices to light.

  • To educate the public to prevent deaths in the future.

Asked which of those reasons triggered Chief Coroner Clive Weighill's decision to hold an inquest into Donard's death, a spokesperson for the ministry cited only the second reason, "to inform the public of circumstances surrounding a death."

Donard's death was investigated by the Prince Albert Police Service, with an investigation observer appointed by the Ministry of Justice reviewing that work.

Coroner's inquests are typically called when investigators, in consultation with Crown prosecutors, have already decided that no officers involved in the death broke the law.