Seal Cove woman has harrowing experience at hands of police
It was a night Vera Rice would rather forget.
The cancer survivor, now in her 60s, was pulled over by police heading home to Seal Cove from treatment and the hospital in Baie Verte and brought to the RCMP detachment in Deer Lake for drug testing.
Rice is now cancer-free. But the weak bones and treatment from years gone by have also left her with infections. A few years ago she underwent treatment for a serious infection that had gotten into her bones, and in recent weeks, the same type of infection has returned.
Rice says she travelled from Seal Cove to the hospital in Baie Verte for a couple of weeks, twice a day in order to receive intravenous treatment for the infection in her bones. The hours were often nonsensical, as the schedule of her treatments had her on the road all hours of the night.
“I would go over in the evening, and the treatment would take so long, and it would be late in the night when I’d leave to go back home,” she said. “Then the next day I was back over there again in the early morning.”
The strain of driving back and forth to the hospital made for stressful and troubling times.
However, she says one particular night while leaving the hospital for treatment, she had an experience she won’t soon forget.
“I was driving home, and I was just about to take the turnoff to go out to Seal Cove,” she said. “I saw there was a cop car pulled off on the side of the road, but I didn’t mind that, I just went on. Then the cop car pulled out with their lights on and pulled me over.”
It was around midnight. Rice says she wasn’t speeding at the time, and was wearing her seatbelt, thus leaving her confused.
“The cop came up and asked me why I was going so slow” she said. “I told her I was going slow because it was dark, and I don’t like driving at night.”
Rice says the officer asked for her licence and registration, and also asked if she’d been drinking or doing drugs.
“I told her I’d just come from the hospital getting my treatment, so the only drugs that were in me were antibiotics,” she said.
After more questions, Rice says she was asked to get out of the car. It was then the officer issued a field sobriety test.
“She asked me to walk a straight line and to stand on one foot and balance, and all this,” said Rice. “I couldn’t do it because of my condition and the infection I had in my bones.”
Rice says she tried to explain to the officer about her condition and why she wasn’t able to do the things she asked, but felt she wasn’t heeded. Needless to say, the woman failed the test.
“She put me in the back of her car … and told me she was taking me to Deer Lake for a drug test.”
Rice was shocked at the news.
“I asked her was there any need, and told her if she’d just go back to the hospital they could tell her what was wrong and why I couldn’t do what she wanted me to do.”
Rice says the officer wouldn’t consent to her wishes. After calling home to inform a friend what was happening, Rice says she was off to Deer Lake in the back of the squad car.
Once there, tests proved that she wasn’t under the influence. It was then they set off back to Baie Verte once again, arriving just after 5 a.m., and just a couple of hours before Rice was scheduled for her next treatment.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Why did I have to go through that? Wasn’t there an easier way to find out I wasn’t doing anything wrong?”
Cpl. Justin Hewlett with Baie Verte RCMP says everything that happened in this incident was normal procedure for a case like this.
“When it comes to people who are potentially under the influence of drugs, that takes specialized training to determine whether or not they are or not” he said. “There are only a few officers in the province who have that training, and unfortunately neither of them are stationed in Baie Verte.”
Hewlett says the closest officer available on the night of Rice’s incident was in fact in Stephenville, however to save time, he travelled to Deer Lake to carry out the tests there.
“When dealing with these circumstances, time is our biggest factor and it isn’t on our side,” he said. “If we identify someone who could potentially be under the influence, we have to get them tested as soon as we can, to ensure accurate results.”
That reasoning, he said, is why the officer that pulled Rice over didn’t heed her advice of investigating the matter with the hospital.
“We can’t spend time chasing down information — the fastest way to know if a person is a danger is to do the testing, and that’s what happened here.”
Hewlett says he realizes the experience may have been an unpleasant one for Rice, however, he stressed that the RCMP are merely doing their jobs.
“If we see someone we believe may be under the influence, based on our training and the signs we look for, then we have a duty to ensure that person is safe, and the rest of the public is safe. That’s our job.”
Rice says after some explanation she now understands why she had to go through what she went through.