It was shaping up to be a rather bleak Sunday evening for a local woman before social media came to the rescue.
Melanie Mae was paying her respects by dropping off flowers at a grave in Pleasant Valley Cemetery at about 4 p.m. Jan. 13. And, as she prepared to leave, it became abundantly clear that she had been locked inside.
Mae, who was alone at the time, said she first called the City of Vernon. However, given the timeline, no one was on hand to take her call, she said. Mae said she lives out of town and no one was at home to assist her.
“I called the (RCMP) non-emergency line and was transferred to Kelowna,” Mae said. “The lady on the phone was actually very unprofessional. I got told, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do, so you can drive around and look for a phone number of a sign somewhere, or park your car and walk home and come back in the morning, or wait in your car if you don’t want to leave it.’”
That’s when Mae took to social media to ask for help. Comments began pouring in and, after only a few hours, the post had received more than 100 reactions, some of which criticized the alleged response of the RCMP dispatch officer.
RCMP Const. Kelly Brett said that there is no police file associated with the incident, and as such, she can’t speak to that discussion.
“Being that the RCMP does not hold keys to any city property or gates, there wouldn’t have been a lot the RCMP could have done,” Brett said.
“Again, I can’t speak to what was said to the person by the call-taker. However, our only option is to ensure the safety of the person, which is why I am assuming they were told to leave their car there and get to a safe place with someone and collect their property, the car, in the morning. Keeping in mind her car was locked in, she could have walked out and or had someone pick her up, and for us that is what is important, the safety of the person.”
Brett said in these situations RCMP would refer to the city or property owner and it would be considered a non-police issue unless the person’s safety was deemed to be at risk.
Through a Facebook post on the Vernon Rant and Rave page, Mae was connected with a city employee who was able to let her out of the cemetery.
“Someone who saw the post who worked for the city drove right there after about an hour of being stuck there and let me out. I was super lucky, that’s for sure,” Mae said. “The amount of support I got was amazing.”
The next morning, Mae said she awoke to numerous apologies, including from the man who locked the gate who said he just didn’t see her.
“There are more people willing to help you then there are people who aren’t,” Mae said.
Kendra Kryszak, manager of Parks and Public Spaces Maintenance, said the City of Vernon contractor is required to inspect the entire cemetery before locking the gate to ensure that no patrons or their vehicles are locked inside. The cemetery’s hours are posted at the entrance and Kryszak said patrons are asked to respect those house to mitigate this risk.
“Let me express my apologies to the person who was locked in,” Kryszak said. “We will review our procedures and follow up to see what happened and how we can ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
If someone finds themselves locked in the cemetery, Kryszak said, they should call the City of Vernon Bylaw Compliance at 250-550-3505.