A Winnipeg man who left his elderly mother lying on the floor of her house for weeks before she died was sentenced on Tuesday to three months in jail.
Ron Siwicki, 62, will receive credit for a month he’s already served.
In court Tuesday, Siwicki waved goodbye to friends and family who gasped, sobbed and cried “I love you Ron!” after the sentence was read.
He pleaded guilty in January to criminal negligence causing the death of his 89-year-old mother, Elizabeth Siwicki, who suffered from dementia.
She fell out of bed in November 2014 and couldn’t get up.
Siwicki, who was her caregiver, cried as he said his mother did not want to go to a hospital.
She was left in the spot where she had fallen for more than three weeks, covered in her own excrement.
She died of sepsis after the bed sores covering her body from the prolonged immobility became infected. An autopsy found that the bed sores were so severe, they went down to her bones.
‘Overwhelmed by the situation’
Siwicki said he tried to care for his mother after her fall by giving her nutritional supplement drinks and water. He waited until his mother died before he tried to clean her or call an ambulance.
There was so much human waste around her that the carpet underneath had buckled, court was told.
“He was overwhelmed by the situation but his responsibility was to help his mother, rather than follow her wishes,” said Justice Colleen Suche in her decision.
Ron Siwicki’s elderly mother died on the floor of their Garden City home in Winnipeg. (Sam Karney/CBC)
Siwicki told court last month he lived with his parents his entire life and wasn’t allowed to leave town. His mother discouraged romantic relationships, he said.
After his father and sister died in a hospital, he said he promised his mother she could die at home, but he was not equipped to deal with her declining health.
In her decision, Justice Suche noted Elizabeth Siwicki had refused to go to the home safety assessment classes that her son had enrolled her in at Seven Oaks Hospital, and refused to later accept an ambulance ride after she’d gone outside scantily dressed.
Siwicki had suggested home care, which she refused, as she refused to ever go to the hospital, court heard.
‘His duty was to look after her’
Siwicki has already served one month at the Winnipeg Remand Centre and worked with staff at the John Howard Society, a community group for men coming out of the correctional system, court heard. He has also received counselling and health services and improved his living circumstances.
“Siwicki accepts full responsibility. He loves his mother, he misses her and will never forgive himself,” said Suche. “Regardless of what she said, his duty was to look after her.”
Justice Suche acknowledged the Crown’s and defence’s “very different” interpretations of Siwicki’s actions.
The consequences of his failure to take action could not be worse.– Justice Colleen Suche
The Crown sought a 35-month prison sentence, due to what it called the “callous, degrading and self-interested actions” which led to his mother’s demise.
The defence, however, asserted that Siwicki’s actions were born of ignorance and a lifetime wanting to please. The defence wanted probation, to be served in the community.
Suche said a psychiatric assessment found no indication of psychiatric illness, anxiety or mood disorders and she believed Siwicki is a low risk to reoffend.
Twenty-seven letters of support were submitted by friends.
The judge took into consideration the fact he was a first-time offender who felt guilt and genuine remorse, as well as his incapacity to make “adult decisions.”
Sentence sends warning: defence
Defence lawyer Mike Cook called the three-month sentence “very, very fair” and “humane.”
“The general denunciatory message goes out now that if you’re in charge of somebody, be it a child or an adult, and they die in your care, you will serve some time in jail,” said Cook.
Siwicki’s friend, Ian Campbell, said the 62-year-old, having never left home, failed to develop autonomy and the ability to “do the right thing.”
“I do believe that in Ron’s situation, with the vulnerability of his life and where he came from, he did not have the ability to make the kind of decision that you or I would think would just be an easy thing to do, like you phone for help,” he said.
Nonetheless, the “aggravating factor” for Suche was that Siwicki was in a position of trust for his mother, who was vulnerable.
“The consequences of his failure to take action could not be worse.”