West Van closes donation bins after accidental death

The District of West Vancouver is temporarily sealing all clothing donation bins in the municipality following the death of a 34-year-old Vancouver man who became trapped in one in Ambleside Park on Sunday.

An off-duty physician was the first person to come across the victim on 13th Street next to the old police station, around 8:30 a.m. The doctor tried to pull the man out but it took members of West Vancouver Fire and Rescue to get the man free.

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“He saw an unresponsive male stuck part way in the opening of a clothing donation bin. Fire and advanced life support EHS attended and were unable to resuscitate [the man],” said Const. Jeff Palmer, West Vancouver police spokesman. “It’s terribly tragic but appears accidental. Nothing at all suspicious and no indication of foul play.”

Investigators do not know how long the victim had been stuck before he was discovered, Palmer said.

It now falls to the BC Coroners Service to determine the exact cause of death. The victim’s name is not being released.

This is the fifth time since 2015 that a person has died stuck in a donation bin, according to the coroner.

On Wednesday, the district sent staff to seven clothing donation bins on public property to wire them shut, at least temporarily. Donation bins on private land are also being sought out for closure.

“Everybody at the district is pretty upset that this happened at all and we are fully cognizant that the charities are going to be impacted. That is why we are saying this is temporary closure. This is something we definitely need to work through together with the charities,” said Donna Powers, district spokeswoman.

Fire crews rushed to another bin in Ambleside on Wednesday afternoon after someone called 911 to report a man climbing in but not coming out. When firefighters got the bin opened, there was no one inside.

Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission is now calling for all donation bins in B.C. to be pulled off the streets until they can be made safe.

“It is absolutely gut wrenching to know another life has been lost in one of these bins. As a community, we all have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable population, including those struggling with homelessness and clearly that’s not happening,” said Nicole Mucci, Union Gospel Mission spokeswoman. “We now know something bigger needs to happen. These bins need to be taken out of service until they’ve been designed to save lives, not take them.”

People turn to clothing donation bins only out of desperation for shelter or warmth, Mucci added.

“It’s often driven out of a need for something for them to sustain life. To see a loss of life resulting from this is just devastating,” she said.

In 2018, UBC Okanagan engineering professor Ray Taheri led his first-year students to work on design concepts for safer donation bins after a number of high-profile deaths.

Taheri said the deaths are an example of what happens when engineers fail to consider unintended consequences of their designs.

“Generally speaking, it was a faulty design from the beginning. Eventually they have to do something more fundamental about those,” he said. “It has happened before, and unfortunately it cost somebody’s life and it’s very sad.”

Taheri said in the coming year he will assign his fourth-year students to come up with a working prototype based on the concepts his students produced this year.

“There were quite a few innovative mechanisms that the students came up with,” he said.

The bin belongs to Inclusion BC, a non-profit that supports people with intellectual disabilities.

“Inclusion BC is very saddened to learn of the death of an individual in one of its clothing donation bins located in West Vancouver. Our deepest condolences go out to those affected by this tragic incident,” a statement from Inclusion BC executive director Karla Verschooor read.

“Safety is a top priority for Inclusion BC and our member organizations who participate in the clothing collection program. In the fall of 2018, we approached UBC Vancouver’s Engineering department to work with our Canadian-based bin manufacturer to design a bin that would prevent people from entering them. Students have designed safety modifications that are in the prototype phase.”

Anyone wanting to donate clothing can still drop off items at the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 1582 Marine Drive, West Vancouver. Big Brothers Big Sisters, Diabetes Canada, Helping Families in Need Society, and Habitat for Humanity will also arrange for donation pickups when requested.

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