Remembering the sight of Taylor Van Diest’s battered form lying on a hospital stretcher brought a Vernon physician near to tears as he testified at the trial of the man accused of killing the teen.
Dr. Michael Concannon was on-call in Vernon Jubilee’s Emergency Room Halloween 2011 and he told the jury Tuesday that nothing short of stopping the assault would have saved Van Diest that night, although he tried.
Concannon first learned he’d be treating the 18-year-old when BC Ambulance called in a report of a girl found by the railroad tracks in Armstrong. From the little information he gleaned, he assumed he’d be dealing with someone who had passed out drunk or, at worst, someone who had been hit by a train.
“What I was faced with was a gravely injured young woman,” Concannon said, noting that the zombie make-up Van Diest was wearing made his initial appraisal of the situation a bit challenging.
“What I saw when I looked at her was a young woman dressed for Halloween, on a stretcher, unconscious.”
Van Diest was unable to breathe on her own when she arrived, so Concannon intubated her.
Concannon also noted ligature marks on her neck, which he reported to nearby Mounties as evidence she hadn’t sustained her injuries accidentally.
To assess the extent of Van Diest’s head injuries, Concannon told the jury he applied the Glasgow Coma Scale. It’s a scoring system used to describe the level of consciousness in a person following a traumatic brain injury, and Van Diest was assigned the lowest score possible.
Other evidence that she’d suffered a “devastating brain injury” were apparent as well.
“Pupils are a window into your brain,” Concannon said, noting that a normal young person’s pupils measure from five to six millimetres.
“Taylor’s pupils were big… one was reacting sluggish, and one wasn’t reacting at all. All were signs of traumatic brain injury.”
A catscan later confirmed those findings.
When asked by Matthew Foerster’s defence lawyer Lisa Jean Helps whether one injury was more significant than the other, he replied that Van Diest suffered a “multitude” of serious injuries.
When Helps narrowed down the question to head injuries alone, Concannon said that the skull fracture was more significant.
Throughout the statement Concannon fought back tears, while the Van Diest family and their supporters openly cried.
Outside the courthouse, they admitted it was hard to hear.
“It’s extremely tough,” said Raymond Van Diest, Taylor’s dad. “Moreso today, hearing about the level of injuries. It’s hard.”
Following Concannon’s testimony, Supreme Court Justice Peter Rogers dismissed the jury for the afternoon session and told them to come back Thursday morning. The Crown’s case has concluded, and it remains unknown whether the defense will decide to call any evidence.
Foerster is being tried before a jury of five women and seven men. To prove first degree murder, the Crown must demonstrate Foerster’s actions were planned and deliberate, or that he killed her while sexually assaulting her.
At the tail end of a lengthy interrogation process that was videotaped in April 2012 and played for the jury on Monday, the accused killer explained he followed Taylor Van Diest down the railroad tracks where her body was later found as she walked to her friend’s house.
“I talked to her for, it seemed, a few minutes,” said Foerster, speaking very faintly in the video.
“I pushed her down and I just told her to keep quiet and she wouldn’t listen and I freaked out and I took off.
“I was scared when I realized what I’d done. I shouldn’t have never been there. I wish I could change it… turn back time.
“But I can’t. I felt really bad for her and her family and how everything worked out. If I could take it all back I would,” he said.
With a bit of prodding from Sgt. Mark Davidson, Foerster admitted that he did more than just push the 18-year-old over that night.
“What did you hit her with Matt?” asked Davidson.
“A flashlight,” said Foerster, noting later it was a Maglite.
“How many times did you hit her?” Davidson followed.
“I don’t know, I can’t remember,” said Foerster.
“More than once?” Davidson asked.
Foerster’s voice was often difficult to make out, but a low-level “yeah” can be heard at that point.
Under further questioning, he said he levied the blows to Van Diest while she was on the ground.
A forensic pathologist who last week gave evidence, said Van Diest died from blunt force trauma to the head, but noted she also showed signs of strangulation.
With that information in mind, Sgt. Davidson asked Foerster what else he may have done to Van Diest.
The accused killer then anted up that he choked her as well—both with his hands and a shoelace.
“I just meant to keep her quiet,” he said.
“I didn’t want it to happen like this.”
Foerster also admitted he dumped the flashlight, his black jacket and the shoelace in a dumpster by a Vernon liquor store, noted that he walked away from the encounter with scratches to his neck.
Getting the information appeared to be a tough slog for investigators who faced a mostly silent Foerster for hours on end.
And when Foerster did speak, he wasn’t immediately forthright.
A couple of times he suggested that he was a good guy who had made some mistakes.
He even told the police officer and his half-brother that he knew he had a problem, but “years in jail won’t help.”
Foerster also pushed blame on Van Diest at another point, agreeing that the teen would still be alive had she chosen not to fight off his sexual advances.