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Suicidal woman charged by police

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A mental health nurse urged police not to charge a woman with driving offences on the same night she was suicidal, an inquest was told yesterday.

The inquest for Karen Michelle Day started in Whakatāne District Court before Coroner Michael Robb, who questioned the police response.

The 59-year-old was stopped by police in Whakatāne in October 2016 after indicating she was suicidal and was charged that night, although police handed a summons to a member of Karen’s family.

Karen was admitted to a hospital the next day after a suspected drug overdose and died 12 days later.

The coroner was told police were notified that Karen was driving when she phoned a helpline, saying she was upset with her life before hanging up.

Constable Mark Reid was sent out to find her, after reports she was driving at speed.

After laying out road spikes Mark stopped her and in his statement, he said he believed her when she told him she wanted to take her own life.

"If someone says that I tend to believe them, especially given the information that was relayed to us, her manner of driving, erratic behaviour - it’s not a normal thing for someone to say that."

Constable Anita Van Veen - the watchhouse keeper at the station - said Karen’s sister, Kim, had told her that Karen had a previous suicide attempt.

When the 59-year-old was eventually taken into the station, Anita says she was distressed.

"I asked if she was under the influence of anything, i.e. drugs, alcohol or solvents - Karen told me ’no’, I asked her if she had taken any pills, she denied taking any prescription medicine.

"I followed through with the questions, Karen admitted to being depressed, she was very upset and tearful as I spoke with her," says Anita.

Police interviewed Karen and a registered nurse specialising in mental health, who has interim name suppression, also assessed her.

The nurse deemed Karen was able to be released to family but asked Ms Van Veen whether the charges could wait because Ms Day wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

Anita says she discussed that with Mark and another officer.

"We decided that to give the summons ... to a family member, so on behalf of Karen and they could talk about it when she was feeling better."

When questioned about training in handling suicidal people, Anita says she had little training at the police college and none since she entered the Whakatāne police in 2014, despite dealing with mental health issues regularly in her job.

The nurse who assessed Karen also says she was unaware of the 59-year-old’s earlier suicidal ideation.

She says she relied mainly on Karen’s account - that she was tired and wanted to go home and be with her family - when making her assessment of her mental health.

She says it was traumatic for people to be put into a mental health unit and Ms Day declined to be voluntarily admitted.

When asked whether that was safe practice - to only use what Ms Day told her - the nurse says Karen told her logically and clearly what had happened and she had no reason to believe she could be lying

The coroner says the decision to hand out summons, given the circumstances, was concerning. He asked Anita whether she could see why the circumstances might trouble him.

He says there was never going to be any difficulty catching up with someone in mental distress during the daytime and, he said, handing down charges added stress.

The inquest continues today.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. 

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3 Comments
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Whakarongo

Posted on 06-04-2018 07:40 | By Colleen Spiro

They were urged not to charge her THAT NIGHT by a health professional, because of her fragility.....maybe they should have taken heed of the nurses advice. There is always ways of doing things. The officer had had no training in dealing with suicidal people.....WHY NOT.?

Norman exception

Posted on 05-04-2018 11:33 | By Seriously?

I agree. The police got her off the road, she was assessed by a mental health professional and deemed okay to go home. Police have nothing to answer for except doing what they’re supposed to do and keeping the community - and the driver - safe. Condolences to the lady’s family/friends also.

Norman exception

Posted on 05-04-2018 08:05 | By Loopy101

They did there job. Being suicidal is not an excuse to drive stupidly. What if she had crashed and killed someone’s loved ones? The police are not to blame she broke the rules so had to deal with the consequences. I give my sympathy to the family but this is not a police error.