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Mental health issues at heart of man's attempt to kill wife, himself

An Osoyoos man will serve a year in jail and two years' probation for attempting to gas himself and his wife while asleep last August.
February 21, 2017 - 5:10 PM

PENTICTON - An Osoyoos husband and wife say the mental health system failed them when the man suffered suicidal mental health issues last year.

Donald Robert Thompson faced a sentencing hearing in a Penticton courtroom today, Feb. 21, for the Aug. 2, 2016 incident in which Thompson, in a depressed state, turned four burners on his condominium’s natural gas stove in an attempt to gas his wife and himself while they slept.

Both he and his wife blamed the mental health system for releasing Thompson before he was ready. Thompson pleaded guilty to "administering a noxious thing with intent to injure."

Crown Prosecutor Ann Lerechs said police were called to Thompson’s residence at 4:58 a.m. on Aug.2 when his wife reported to police he had gassed the residence while in a suicidal state.

Police arrived to find Ms. Thompson outside the residence, with the strong odour of natural gas emanating from the open door of the unit.

An officer went inside to find Mr. Thompson unconscious in the bedroom. Unable to drag him out, the officer opened doors and windows and shut off the burners on the gas stove.

Thompson was taken to the psychiatric unit of Penticton Regional Hospital, where he eventually admitted to his wife his intention had been to kill both of them, so she wouldn’t be left grieving alone.

At the time of the incident, Thompson had lost his job, and was about to be evicted. He had been suffering from mental health issues and had been in and out of the care of mental health practitioners earlier in the year.

Prior to retiring the night of the incident, Ms. Thompson blamed Donald for losing his job, upset about where the couple were going to go after being evicted.

She awoke in the early morning to the strong smell of gas and got up. None of the lights would turn on, and when she heard the sound of gas escaping, she called police.

Thompson had taken the rest of his sleeping pills prior to retiring that night. He also placed the cat in the laundry room and disconnected or disabled the unit’s smoke detectors, prior to turning off the main breaker.

A pre-sentence report said Thompson expressed remorse at what happened, but also blamed mental health authorities for letting him out too soon.

The pre-sentence report also took note of the fact Thompson had taken some time to plan the event.

Lerechs said a psychiatric report indicated Thompson suffered from an addiction to pornography and had made three prior suicide attempts in 2015.

Lerechs recommended a sentence of four years jail time, calling Thompson’s offence “very serious,” in that he intended to cause the death of himself and his wife. She labelled it "domestic violence that occurred in the home where his wife should have felt safest.”

Lerechs also noted a lack of case law to submit to the judge.

Ms. Thompson provided her own victim impact statement to court, saying her life was forever changed by the incident.

Calling herself an emotional, private person who has her own struggle with depression, she said the loss of her husband’s job and their apartment put him “over the edge.”

“He included me in his plans. That wasn’t his decision to make, I, however understand it. People think I’m naive or stupid for thinking this way, but Donald was right. After this incident, I suffered terribly. Our marriage was a good one until last year,” she said, adding the couple had been seeing a marriage counsellor over Don’s addiction to pornography.

“Don is a good man, who made a horrible mistake in judgement, that has caused a terrible cost on all our lives. I forgive him. What disappoints me the most is all this could have been prevented if the psychiatrist in Kelowna had admitted him to the psych ward,” she said, adding the doctor failed to understand the severity of Thompson’s depression.

She said Don was admitted twice to the Penticton psych ward, only to be told he had to leave because the ward was not a hotel.

“Had Don had the necessary mental health assistance back in April, 2016, we would not be standing before you now,” she said.

She said she continued to love and support her husband.

Defence lawyer James Pennington called the case “another example of someone falling through the cracks of the mental health system,” adding money and resources were lacking.

Pennington said the two had previous conversations about suicide, with Ms. Thompson saying, “If you’re planning to go, don’t forget about me.”

“Exactly what she meant by that, I’m not sure,” he said.

Pennington also noted precautions taken by Thompson to ensure there was no explosion or fire by shutting off the power.

He said his client had done enough jail time, having been incarcerated since Aug. 19, 2016, asking Judge Gale Sinclair to consider a suspended sentence of two years, with an additional two years probation, also noting a lack of case law to present.

Thompson, appearing by video from Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, voiced his apologies for what he had done.

Judge Sinclair, declaring the issue one of mental health, said Thompson needed treatment, while also noting the severity of the offence.

“Languishing in prison will not serve justice nor Mr. Thompson,” he said, adding there must be a measure of rehabilitation in the sentence.

Thompson was given a year in jail, in addition to two year’s probation. With enhanced time served, he has 86 days remaining in his sentence.

The couple will not be allowed contact with each other unless consent is given by the probation officer, or they are enrolled in a reconciliation program. Judge Sinclair said an application could be made to reduce restrictions at a later date.


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