'Why didn't they dial 911?': Vancouver woman's family wants to know why she died alone
VANCOUVER -- Karen and Bill Smithers are still waiting to find out how their daughter Tricia Beck died more than four months ago in a BC Housing-run building in Vancouver.
While the 46-year-old’s death is now under investigation by multiple agencies, including the major crimes section of the Vancouver police, no one has been able to provide her family with answers about the cause, and what happened leading up to her death on February 7th.
But what they have been told so far has been troubling for them.
"My daughter was a person. She was a human being," Karen said. "We want someone to answer because it isn’t right."
What they do know is that their daughter, a mother of six, was found lying on the floor of her apartment two days after her death, and only after police were forced to break through the locked door. They’ve also been told there were people who saw her before she died, and that she looked to be incredibly sick, but it doesn’t appear anyone called for emergency help.
"We’re being told that this is just a perfect storm of everything going wrong," Bill said.
"She did not deserve to be left there, lying there," Karen said. "Why didn’t they dial 911?"
'She had a huge heart'
As a child, Karen remembers her daughter as an outgoing, precocious little girl with a lot of compassion for others.
"She had a huge heart," Karen said. "She was stubborn and knew what she wanted."
Fiercely protective of her siblings, Tricia was known to bring home stray animals.
"Half our animals were because she found them," Karen said.
Karen said sometimes Tricia would also bring home friends going through a rough time in their own lives, who would end up staying with her family.
In school she excelled in athletics, including track and baseball, but had a hard time in class. Her family said she had learning difficulties, which didn’t have the awareness they do now.
“She was difficult in her teen years. Her and I battled, battled a lot, because she was so strong-willed, and I...I guess we were both strong-willed,” Karen said.
Tricia became a mother to her first child at 19, and would eventually have five more children over the years, including a set of twins.
During those years, she also began a lengthy struggle with drug addiction. Her family said mental health problems were also a factor in her life.
“We knew she had problems with alcohol. But we didn’t realize how bad the problem was,” Karen said.
But eventually there came a point when Tricia’s addiction became painfully apparent.
"If she had passed me on the street, I wouldn’t even have known it was her," Bill said. "Just such bad shape. She looked 10 years older."
Karen said Tricia "had become a person we didn’t know."
"She was totally drug addicted and said really hurtful things, did really hurtful things," she said.
Tricia's parents ended up legally taking over the care of her children.
"We ended up going to court and having her rights taken away," Karen said. "Hardest thing a mom can do, except for losing a child."
Bill recalls Tricia's addiction as a "constant" cycle, where she’d end up in hospital, then get clean, and then decide to go off her medications.
"Then she’d start using again," he said. "And this happened just over and over and over and over again, for like 17 years."
But they also noticed as the years went on that her periods of sobriety were getting longer and longer. A few years ago, Karen said Tricia moved to Vancouver to attend a faith-based recovery house, and ultimately moved into the BC Housing-run building on Jackson Avenue.
"And for the last three years, it was...she’d be really good, and then she’d go out for one or two days, and then she’d be really good again," Karen said.
Things were changing for Tricia. Karen said she wasn’t doing crack anymore, and had her teeth repaired. She had also gotten a job.
"There were still bad times, but it was more good than bad now," Karen said, and added her daughter was "really starting to get a life again."
"She told her me that her goal in the last couple years was she wanted to make up for being such a crappy mother by being the best grandma in the world," Karen said.
Tricia's apartment was within walking distance of where she picked up her medications and was also close to her psychiatrist and a local park.
Karen recalled how "neat and cute" Tricia always kept her home, and how she loved Hello Kitty and anything pink.
"Almost child-like cute, like a teenage girl would do it," Karen said, remembering how her daughter liked to decorate her place. "She had pictures up and she would go to dollar stores and buy things."
As of Christmas 2019, Karen said Tricia was excited to prepare a turkey at her home for her sons.
Karen and Bill were going away to Mexico for a three-month getaway, the first time they had ever taken a trip of that length.
"I said OK, we’ll do Christmas in April when I come home," Karen said. "And that was sort of where we left it."
It was the first Christmas Tricia hadn’t spent with them. At the time, none of them knew it would be her last.
'She couldn’t even walk'
On February 10th, Karen was contacted by police while in Mexico. They had found Tricia dead in her apartment the day before. Her parents were told there was no obvious sign of death, and an autopsy had been scheduled.
"We just assumed she had a drug overdose," Karen said. "You always had that risk. It was always in the back of your mind."
But early on, there were strange signs that something wasn’t right.
Karen remembers the officer asking how her daughter's place usually looked, and remarked to her that it appeared "a bit tossed." The upheaval in Tricia's usually neat apartment was also verified by some of her children, who went to collect a few of her things. There were also items they couldn’t find, like Tricia's phone and jewellery given to her by Karen.
"No matter how bad things got, she never sold them or traded them," Karen said. "Those were precious to her."
Karen was also told she wouldn’t be able to see her daughter until she was moved to a funeral home from the morgue. They were initially told blood work would take six weeks, but they are still waiting for the results. The BC Coroners Service has confirmed Tricia's death is still being investigated.
Karen said it was almost a month later when she saw her daughter’s body, at a viewing.
"I went up and it wasn’t her," Karen said, and added Tricia appeared emaciated. She finally rolled up Tricia's sleeves to see the distinctive tattoos on her arms.
"I don’t remember much past that. I think I almost passed out," Karen said.
Sometime after the funeral, Karen was contacted by someone who said they worked in her daughter’s building.
"She told me she could lose her job," Karen said. "But that she felt we had a right, and she really cared for Tricia and that she thought we should know the truth."
Karen said she was told her daughter had appeared very unwell leading up to her death, and by the Monday of that week, "she couldn’t even walk down the hallway."
"She wasn’t coming out of her suite and some of the neighbours could hear her yelling," Karen said.
The worker told Karen she was worried Tricia wasn’t going for her medications, and called a mental health team to come and check on her: a visit she said happened earlier on the day Tricia died.
"By this time, Tricia was crawling on the floor," Karen said, and added she was told her daughter said no when the doctor asked if she wanted to go to the hospital.
"But I’m sorry, a six-year-old child would know you call an ambulance when someone’s that sick," Karen said. "If they’d have done everything right and taken her to the hospital, and she had died, and there was a reason for her death, I could accept that."
Karen said she has since been told someone else was asked to call for help, but called a non-emergency number instead.
"Nobody has denied any of this. Nobody has said, oh no no, Mrs. Smithers, that’s not the way it happened," Karen said. "I hear 'I’m sorry' a lot. I hear 'this shouldn’t have happened' a lot."
Karen said the woman who contacted her also said another BC Housing worker was asked to keep an eye on her daughter after the mental health team left.
"She said first thing I asked was, 'did Tricia get to the hospital?' And he says 'oh no, they found her dead last night.' She said, 'what?' And he goes, 'yeah, he says she was breathing on Friday when I left her laying on the floor.'"
Karen said she was later told a Vancouver police officer came by and knocked on the door on Saturday, and then left, and that apparently the visit was captured on the building’s security video. However, the Vancouver police have said they do not have a record of that visit.
"My daughter didn’t want to die. She wanted to live to see her grandchildren," Karen said. "She wasn’t perfect, and she slipped, but even if she slipped she didn’t deserve to be left there, lying there."
Looking for answers
The Vancouver police have confirmed to CTV their major crimes section is investigating Tricia’s death, which they’ve determined to be suspicious. They said they don’t have a record of any other call related to Tricia on the week of her death.
Police said on February 9th, they attended with Car 87 (a mental health car which pairs an officer with a nurse) with a warrant to apprehend Tricia under the mental health act and bring her to the hospital, as she had missed a medical appointment. They don’t think police attended at any other time over the weekend, as Karen had been told.
Vancouver Coastal Health is now conducting a review of what happened. They would not agree to an on-camera interview - instead issuing a statement calling it a "tragic situation" and citing privacy as a reason for not releasing more detail.
"Vancouver Coastal Health is committed to providing safe, responsive and integrated mental health care and support, built on strong connections between care providers and clients, as well as their families or representatives, support agencies and community partner organizations," the statement said.
BC Housing also would not agree to an on-camera interview, issuing a statement saying: "This is a truly tragic case and we feel for the family as they face this heartbreak."
"BC Housing does our best to ensure our tenants are supported and connected to all the appropriate health-care and emergency response services that are needed to help meet the complex needs of the people we serve," the statement continued.
BC Housing said it is working with first responders and Vancouver Coastal Health, adding the health authority’s review "will help determine what future steps can be taken by the agencies involved in this to prevent tragedies like this in the future."
While she waits for answers, Karen now has a potted hibiscus plant with bright pink blooms at her home, the colour Tricia loved. It’s a reminder of a trip they took together to Hawaii, in happier times. Tricia loved it there. Karen said it’s a flower that does well here, as long as you care for it properly by bringing it inside in the colder months. It will bloom again every year.