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Coroner's inquiry into Surrey man's death begins

Bikermanjit (Victor) Singh Kooner - File
Bikermanjit (Victor) Singh Kooner
— image credit: File

Bikermanjit (Victor) Singh Kooner had been using cocaine for three days before he died in police custody, a coroner's inquiry heard Monday.

Balbir Singh Bhandal, a close friend of Kooner's, took the stand at a three-day coroner's inquest being held to determine the facts surrounding his death.

Kooner, who owned and managed two Surrey recovery homes called the Spiritual Freedom House Society, had been on a "bender" in Vancouver for a while back in June, 2010, Bhandal said.

"He had been gone for three days," Bhandal said, adding Kooner's wife called him out of concern.

"He wasn't home for Father's Day."

The 39-year-old father of two boys eventually called Bhandal and wanted to meet for coffee, saying he was distraught about missing Father's Day with his family.

They met at a local Starbucks, where Bhandal noticed Kooner was still high.

"He was paranoid," Bhandal told presiding coroner Madam Marj Paonessa and the jury of five on Monday. "It had to be the drugs."

Bhandal said they got into his van near 11 p.m. and as Bhandal drove, Kooner kept insisting someone was in the back of the van.

"There was nobody there," Bhandal said.

As they approached 88 Avenue and 160 Street, Kooner threw his coffee into the back of the van, jumped out of the vehicle and started running through the intersection, grabbing at door handles of passing cars. Bhandal stopped the van and gave pursuit.

He figures the two of them were scrambling around the busy intersection for about 20 minutes before police arrived.

Surrey RCMP Const. Sean McInnes testified that he was at the scene about two minutes after he received a call for help.

He arrived two see the two South Asian males in intersection. When the men noticed McInnes, they approached, and Kooner was asking for help, McInnes said.

McInnes told the inquiry Kooner was "wide-eyed" and had a "thousand-yard stare," suggesting that he was high and could be experiencing "excited delerium" from the drugs.

"He said that somebody was trying to get him," McInnes said, adding Kooner was not "assaultive" but was not following commands.

Police said they had trouble getting Kooner to comply, but eventually got him to the ground and handcuffed him.

About a minute later, Kooner stopped moving.

Police took off the handcuffs, and noticed he'd stopped breathing.

Officers began CPR immediately, but Kooner died in hospital.

The purpose of the inquiry is to determine when, where, how and by what means Kooner died.

The purpose of the jury is not to find fault, but it can make recommendations as to how to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The submissions are scheduled through Tuesday and then the jury will be sequestered to make a decision.

@diakiw

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