Investigation into blind woman's death flawed, but conclusion correct: review
After a four-month review, Quebec police have confirmed the death of a blind woman in Halifax was accidental. However, they are also criticizing Halifax police for the way the investigation was handled.
Holly Bartlett was discovered unconscious under the McKay Bridge in Halifax early on March 27, 2010, and died in hospital the following day.
The police investigation at the time concluded the 31-year-old woman had become disoriented after leaving a taxi in the early morning hours and fell 10 metres off a concrete abutment that anchored two thick cables at the suspension bridge across Halifax Harbour. It is surrounded by a chain-link fence.
Bartlett’s family raised questions about how she managed to get out of the taxi, walk down a pathway and pass through a hole in a fence before reaching the abutment. Last year, they contacted the chief of police to say they had concerns about the investigation.
Amanda Jenkins says her family has never been out to get the police, but they have also never been happy with the investigation into her sister’s death.
“We really wanted them to zone in on how they handled the case altogether,” says Jenkins.
After talking to the family and visiting the site where Bartlett had been found, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais requested that Quebec City police review how the case was handled.
Two reviewers spent the last four months analyzing the file. The review reaffirmed that Bartlett’s death was accidental, but reviewers said some areas of the investigation could have been conducted more thoroughly, even though it would not have changed the outcome.
Quebec police say canvassing done in the area where Bartlett’s body had been found was not adequate, as some residents were only spoken to four months after her death.
“There’s no doubt that there are unanswered questions, but there’s unanswered questions not because the investigative tasks weren’t completed, there are unanswered questions because the evidence is not there,” says Blais.
The reviewers also took issue with the interview of a taxi driver who dropped Bartlett off the night she died.
“They had said that it was 25 minutes, which is far too short considering that he was the last to see Holly alive,” says Jenkins.
The reviewers say it took Halifax police too long to find items later found by citizens, such as Bartlett’s cane, which had been left on the ground. They also say it took officers too long to analyze her computer and Facebook account, which wasn’t done until nearly four years after her death.
“We would have had more confidence had all of those things been done,” says Jenkins.
Regardless of the flawed investigation, reviewers say it wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of the case, as Bartlett’s death was a tragic accident.
Halifax police say they will fully study the report and determine how they can best implement the recommendations. They will release their own evaluation in the coming weeks.
“These are things that we will be working very hard to improve in the next little while,” says Blais.
Jenkins says her family was never looking for perfection from the police, only effort, and now they can find some closure in Bartlett’s death.
She also hopes the review and resulting recommendations will spare other families the pain hers has experienced.
“If it helps another family that has to go through a tragedy and they don’t have to hound the police that we felt we had to at the beginning, and they don’t have to do all the groundwork that we felt we had to do at the beginning, go for it.”
Police say there are no plans to reopen the investigation, but if someone were to come forward with new and credible information, they would consider it.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kayla Hounsell and The Canadian Press