CAMPBELLTON, N.B. – John O’Brien woke with a start — and an anguished shout from the neighbour: “Oh my God, the kids are dead.”
Jean-Claude Savoie was pounding on the door, O’Brien told Savoie’s criminal negligence trial in Campbellton, N.B., Thursday. Savoie had been caring for the two sons of O’Brien’s girlfriend, Mandy Trecartin, during an August, 2013, sleepover.
O’Brien said he went to Savoie’s apartment next door, and found Trecartin’s sons dead.
“I verified both Noah and Connor were dead on the floor,” he testified.
“I checked for a pulse but there wasn’t anything. They were blue.”
The boys were killed by Savoie’s African rock python, which had escaped its enclosure. It’s believed the snake travelled through a ventilation duct and fell into the living room where the boys were sleeping. Savoie’s own son, who was sleeping in a different room, was unharmed.
O’Brien said he had noticed the cover for the ventilation duct on the floor of the python’s enclosure on several visits to the apartment, which was above a reptile store owned by Savoie. O’Brien said he saw it there in the week prior to the death of the boys.
“I never thought anything of it,” he said.
Also Thursday, Dr. James Goltz, the chief provincial veterinarian for New Brunswick, said he saw nothing abnormal with the snake when he did a necropsy a day after the tragedy.
He said its stomach was empty, indicating it hadn’t eaten for at least a day. He also described how a python can change its diameter by contracting — an issue that has come up during the trial because its resting width appeared larger than the duct it apparently escaped through.
Goltz said the snake was about 3.7 metres metres long and weighed about 24 kilograms.
Also Thursday, Bernard Gallant, co-ordinator at the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, said he had visited Savoie’s Reptile Ocean store four or five times over the years, and often conferred with Savoie on reptile issues.
“He showed us he was competent,” said Gallant. “I was quite impressed with what he put into the construction of the facility.”
He said when the Canadian Wildlife Service was trying to place the snake, it had offered it to the Magnetic Hill Zoo, but they didn’t have an appropriate enclosure at the time. Gallant said he told them to approach Savoie.
On Wednesday, a witness told the jury that the python had previously escaped its enclosure in the weeks before the tragedy.
And one of the officers who responded to Savoie’s 911 call said he thought the snake was trying to escape again while police responded to the boys’ deaths that morning.
“The snake started hissing at us and lunging and hitting the window with its face,” Const. Eric Maillet said Wednesday.
Maillet said he was concerned the snake wanted to feed and was trying to get back to the living room where the boys’ bodies were.
“It was going straight up in the air towards the vent opening,” he said.
Maillet said he was quite surprised how the snake was able to stand straight up — almost reaching the vent opening.
“I didn’t expect such a large reptile to be able to do that.”
Trecartin told the court Wednesday she dropped the boys off for a sleepover the previous night certain they were in good hands.
“I felt they would be as safe with him as they would be with me,” Trecartin testified.