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Monday, February 02, 2009

Emergency call taken out of context: airport Taser death witness

February 2, 2009
CBC News

A woman who pleaded for the police to hurry to Vancouver's airport the night Robert Dziekanski died is angry her call for help has been made public without the proper context.

Dziekanski's heart stopped minutes after four RCMP officers stunned him with a Taser and tackled him in the arrivals area of the airport in 2007.

Then last week at a public inquiry into Dziekanski's death, recordings of telephone and radio calls made at the airport to security personnel that night were released and played.

But the woman who can be heard on one of the most dramatic recordings says it doesn't tell the whole story. "Well he's really drunk and he's throwing suitcases around," Lois Steckley can be heard on one 81/2-minute call she made from an airport courtesy phone as she watched a distraught Robert Dziekanski damaging furniture and computer equipment in the arrivals area.

Lawyers from the airport authority didn't identify Steckley last week when they played the call at the inquiry, but CBC News tracked Steckley down on Friday.

Steckley said she doesn't remember saying some of the things about Dziekanski on the recording, such as calling him a lunatic and a maniac, for example. But she said that more importantly what isn't in the recording is how long she spent scouring the airport looking for security guards to help, and how she repeatedly tried to get someone to pick up the only airport phone she could find. "And that is what made me escalate and start saying things are getting out of hand, and that's why I said what I said," she said.

Now she's angry the tape was released by the airport authority through the inquiry, without any context. "I only said that because I wanted someone to help him out. Never did I think this was going to turn out the way it did. I was totally devastated," she told CBC News.

An airport operations employee put Steckley on hold at least twice to relay her frantic descriptions of Dziekanski to the RCMP. She says her language shouldn't have made any difference to how officers handled the situation. "How could they be informed properly when there's no security downstairs watching with their own eyes what's going on and helping out?" she asked.

Steckley is expected to appear at the inquiry this week to testify about what she saw and did the night Dziekanski died.

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