Saturday, November 05, 2016

Parental Grief, Parental Judgement Lapse

"I felt they would be as safe with him as they would be with me."
"I don't want to say, 'I have nothing to say,' but I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings."
Mandy Trecartin, mother of Noah and Connor Barthe
Mandy Trecartin leaves court after testifying in Campbellton on Wednesday. Mandy Trecartin leaves court after testifying in Campbellton on Wednesday. (Alan White/CBC)
"He told me he was sitting down in his living room and he looked up and the snake was halfway out [escaped through the ventilation duct from cage to living room]."
"I knew what the snake [African rock python] was capable of. It can overtake any man."
"I would never think so [that it could escape through the ventilation duct given its size] when you look at the size of the snake. It would never cross my mind."
Ocean Eagles, volunteer worker at reptile store

"The snake coiled around his [Jean Claude Savoie's] arm. The snake started hissing at us and lunging and hitting the window with its face."
"It was going straight up in the air towards the vent opening."
RCMP Const. Eric Maillet
Mr. Savoie loved reptiles, and he owned and operated a reptile store in Campbellton, New Brunswick in 2013. He lived upstairs in the building that held the store downstairs. And he rented out an apartment in the building to single mother Mandy Trecartin, with her sons Noah Barthe 4, and six-year-old Connor Barthe. The two Barthe children were best friends with Mr Savoie's own son. The two adults had known one another as well when they were both in their teens.

Ms. Trecartin and Mr. Savoie and their respective children were comfortable with one another, very friendly and trusting. Ms. Trecartin didn't mind allowing her children to be around the reptiles that Mr. Savoie kept, even giving them permission to help clean out the reptiles' cages. And there were occasional sleep-overs with Mr. Savoie's son when Ms. Trecartin and her boyfriend wanted a night out and Mr. Savoie was willing to look after the two young boys, as a good neighbour.

barthe-brothers
Connor Barthe, 6, and his brother Noah, 4, were killed in August 2013 after an African rock python escaped from its enclosure. (Facebook/Canadian Press)

All was well. Until August 4, 2013 when the boys visited a farm owned by Mr. Savoie's father, where all three children enjoyed themselves playing with the farm animals. And the Barthe boys were scheduled have dinner at the Savoie apartment and later to sleep over with their friend, while their mother and their mother's boyfriend had one of their evenings out and the night together.

During the night, something dreadful happened, horrible beyond the imagination of anyone concerned. The rock python escaped its cage, entered into the ventilation opening, squeezed its way through and made it way along until it was over the living room where the two little boys were fast asleep. No one appears to have heard anything amiss, but when Mr. Savoie went to the living room to check on the children he found them both smothered to death.

He ran next door, knocking at the door, shouting "Oh my God, your two kids are dead". Whereupon the mother's boyfriend accompanied Mr. Savoie next door to investigate. When he returned he said to Ms. Trecartin: "It's true It's a f--cking nightmare but it's true". The 45-kilogram African python had fallen into the room as the boys slept and suffocated them to death.

African rock python, Jean-Claude Savoie trial
The African rock python that killed Connor Barthe, 6, and his brother Noah, 4, measured 12 feet, four inches long and weighed 53 pounds, a veterinary pathologist who did the necropsy on the snake testified. (Campbellton Court of Queen's Bench exhibit)

Mr. Savoie was aware that the python had previously slithered through a ventilation duct. His volunteer worker had put a cover over the duct, warning that it had to be screwed on. It seems that Mr. Savoie somehow neglected to screw the cover on the duct, perhaps he had forgotten. Perhaps it seemed impossible for him to believe that anything dangerous could happen with the animal. After all, he had a vulnerable child of his own.

Mr. Savoie is now on trial at the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench, in the deaths of the two children. Ms. Trecartin will live forever with the devastating knowledge that she once had two loving children and they died a horrible death. She will live with that wrenching pain, her life stretching before her, one vast pulsating understanding that she had somehow managed to overlook that her children were in the direct vicinity of danger but she had given it no thought, trusting to luck that nothing untoward would ever happen.

Possibly she bears some responsibility in the loss of her children.

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