A southern Alberta couple, David and Collet Stephan, pictured here with their oldest son Ezra and their late son Ezekiel, now face charges in relation to their youngest son's March 2012 death.
Two southern Alberta parents who lost their toddler to meningitis last year now face criminal charges implicating them in their young son's death.
David Stephan, 29, and his wife Collet Stephan, 32, of Glenwood, Alberta, are charged with failing to provide the necessities of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel, who died in March 2012.
"You can only imagine what it would be like to lose a child and then to be blindsided by charges like this just out of the blue that just bring up all of the past. It's a tough thing. It's devastating, really," said David, the boy's father. "It's as if we just lost him again."
An 11-month RCMP investigation concluded the couple didn't do enough to prevent the boy's death, but the family believes the emergency medical service he eventually received is partly to blame.
Ezekiel, or Zeke, got sick last February, according to police. At least two weeks later, he was having trouble breathing and the family called 911. An ambulance took him to Cardston hospital, but by the time he arrived, his heart had stopped. Doctors revived him and he was airlifted to the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary, where he remained for a week until his parents took him off life support and he died March 18, 2012. The family later found out that he'd had a lung infection that progressed into meningitis.
A charge of failing to provide the necessities of life is generally laid when police gather evidence to suggest that someone didn't provide things like food, shelter or medical attention to a person in their care, said RCMP Cpl. Darrin Turnbull, who explained that investigators extensively interviewed health professionals, family members and those close to the Stephan family before deciding to lay criminal charges in this case.
"It's definitely very difficult. Officers have children of their own and when these kind of matters come to our attention, it's hard not to relate it to your own family," he said.
"All families love their children and we all try to do our best for our children, but sometimes mistakes are made and, in this situation, the police officers involved in the investigation believed that more could have been done for the child."
The boy's grandfather, Tony Stephan, is the co-founder of Raymond-based supplement provider Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd. He said the couple, who also has an older son, did all it could for Zeke and that Alberta's health system failed the family.
The toddler had a flu-like symptoms and a slight fever for a few days, but prior to his death he appeared to be recovering.
"They looked after him at home and it resolved," he said.
Then, his parents noticed that Zeke was having trouble breathing. They called 911 and an ambulance was dispatched from Cardston, 40 minutes away, Tony said. The couple drove up to meet the ambulance on the highway just north of Cardston, but when the paramedics took Zeke into their care, they realized they didn't have the proper equipment to intubate a baby and get oxygen flowing into his lungs.
"One of them actually broke down emotionally over the situation and was visibly angered at the fact that they had requested numerous times from Alberta Health Services the proper, required equipment, and they didn't get it," Tony said. "There's fault everywhere. Maybe I should have seen it. Maybe, as a grandfather, I should have been able to see. Nobody would have ever believed that this young boy would have died," he said.
"It's just a tragedy all the way around, no matter how you look at it."
The couple is scheduled to appear in Lethbridge Provincial Court May 23. A conviction of failing to provide the necessities of life carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.