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The 59-year-old was clearly visible on the security cameras beaming images to the STM’s central control station on Jan. 16, 2014. He was seen by at least 40 passersby who glanced curiously in his direction and apparently decided he was just another drunk who had passed out, despite the fact that his head was inches from the passing trains. |
One person bent and went through his pockets, perhaps searching for his identity cards, but never checked for a pulse.
Hebrich was also seen by no fewer than three métro drivers, two of whom seemingly passed him by without a second thought (one may have logged a call to 911) and a third who exited the vehicle but stayed at a “respectful distance” before retreating into his cabin.
It took 16 minutes before paramedics arrived. By then, Hebrich was beyond help, having been struck violently in the head by a métro train at Langelier station after stumbling across the platform. Tests showed that his blood alcohol level had been extremely elevated at the time of the accident. When first responders finally arrived, Hebrich was deprived of oxygen for another three minutes before anyone made an effort to breathe life back into his body.
Mr. Hebrich died in hospital at 4:21 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2014.
The coroner’s report into Hebrich’s death, published in December and first obtained by La Presse this week, is difficult to read and lays partial blame for his demise squarely at the feet of his fellow Montrealers. “At the end of the day, there are not many positive things to write about this "rescue attempt",” explains coroner Jacques Ramsay, making little effort to hide his dismay. “The indifference of the passengers says a lot about the apathy of citizens.”
It is unclear whether Hebrich would have survived had life-saving measures started sooner. He suffered a deep cut to the right side of his head, multiple skull fractures, and an “unstable” fracture of one of his vertebrae. Ramsay noted that there was blood in his nose and his mouth.
An Algerian native, Hebrich had been an architect by trade. According to his obituary, he established a successful practice in the city of Annaba in the 1990s before moving to Quebec with his wife, Louiza Messal, and two children in the early 2000s. Hebrich was unable to find work in his field, and a slow descent into alcoholism reportedly followed.
Much like father-of-two Alain Magloire, who would be shot dead by police two weeks after the métro death, he eventually ended up on the street — invisible and adrift.
“This is not something that really surprises us, at first glance,” said Bernard St-Jacques, a community organizer with local homeless advocacy group RAPSIM. While Hebrich was clearly in distress that night, “sometimes there are people who aren’t in a particularly noticeable position. The situation in the métro is particular like that, because we often see people lying on the ground.”
St-Jacques called the incident “worrisome,” adding that the STM may need to review the instructions given to its employees when it comes to dealing with unusual situations or possible injuries. Like everyone else, he said, they are subject to what has been dubbed “the bystander effect” — wherein people don’t step in because they assume someone else is already doing so.
“We think: ‘Okay, there must be someone coming. This situation makes no sense.’ But that’s not necessarily the case.”