The final hour of Russell John’s life plays out on a 911 audio recording moments after his common-law wife stabs him in the heart.
“Wake up. Wake up,” pleads Marguerite (Toni) John.
But Russell John doesn’t respond and never will.
He’s bleeding profusely from a single stab wound to the middle of his chest which broke through the soft ribcage cartilage, perforated the pericardium sac, and entered his heart.
It’s around 10 a.m., on March 7, 2009, and Russell John is dying in his uncle’s home on the Ehattesaht Reserve located beside the isolated West Coast village of Zeballos.
“He’s bleeding to death!” Marguerite tells the ambulance operator. “I stabbed him in the chest…he’s bleeding to death, we need an ambulance fast!…Russell, wake up!”
In a calm voice, the male operator instructs Marguerite to get a clean towel and apply pressure to the wound.
But she’s already pressing Russell’s blood-soaked T-shirt to his chest.
“There’s blood all over!” she says as the blood forms a four-foot pool on the floor.
Russell John is 42 years old, stands 5’8”, and weighs 170 pounds. Until now, he’s lived in relatively good health.
An autopsy later reveals a lump of scar tissue on his upper chest and a fatty liver, an indication of long-time alcohol abuse.
On the night before he dies, Russell and Marguerite drink heavily.
An empty 40-ounce bottle of Smirnoff vodka is found in a nearby trailer where they’ve been partying and fighting, and Marguerite tells the ambulance operator she’s still drunk.
“We fight a lot…I just wanted him to stop,” she sobs. “I don’t know what I’m going to do – (I’m) scared…he beats me up all the time…I get tired of it.”
The night of drinking and fighting ends when Russell retreats to his uncle’s home. The next morning, as the snowfall gives way to sunshine, Marguerite walks to the house, apparently to make amends with Russell, when everything goes wrong.
She stabs him and he collapses onto a couch, where he slips into unconsciousness, with his head slumped towards his chest.
But Russell’s heart continues beating and pumps out several litres of blood through the hole in his chest.
His heavy breathing turns to snores, but then his breathing becomes shorter and shallower as the blood pressure drops.
“I’m losing him!” cries Marguerite. “He’s not breathing, but I can feel his heart…Russell, Russell, I need you to breathe!”
The operator tells Marguerite to get Russell onto the floor. He then instructs her how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
She blows quick breaths into his mouth and then pumps his chest to keep the heart going and the blood pressure up.
“It’s a really tough situation. You’re doing great,” the operator reassures her. “Keep doing it over and over. Don’t give up!”
Finally, an ambulance paramedic and a volunteer firefighter arrive. The paramedic is Ernie Smith who’s known Russell all his life.
“His heart is still beating, but he’s slowing down,” Smith tells the operator.
Smith knows Russell’s life is in jeopardy and they need to get him on air ambulance and to hospital as fast as possible.
He’s bundled onto a stretcher and taken by ambulance to the nearby ball field where the helicopter will land.
Marguerite is in the ambulance too as Russell’s life begins to slip away.
She watches as Smith and the volunteer firefighters take turns performing CPR, but eventually she can’t take it anymore and leaves.
Smith and the firefighters continue their efforts for 40 minutes when protocol dictates they only need to do CPR for 30 minutes. Smith is finally told to stop and Russell John dies in the back of an ambulance without ever regaining consciousness.
When police finally arrive from Port McNeill, Marguerite John is arrested and charged with murder. The charge is later reduced to manslaughter.
The 33-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is currently being tried by Justice Douglas Halfyard in B.C. Supreme Court.
The trial is expected to continue next week in Campbell River.