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TRAGEDY AT YELLOW QUILL
Infant sisters freeze to death during father's midnight stupor
Bodies of girls clad in T-shirts and diapers found on Saskatchewan reserve after dad got lost
January 31, 2008
It was just after midnight on the Yellow Quill reserve when Christopher Pauchay hoisted his two small children in his arms and staggered into a howling white winter storm.
The winds sent temperatures careening toward -50 degrees that night, but Mr. Pauchay didn't even put on a jacket. His 15-month-old daughter, Santana, and his three-year-old daughter, Kaydence, wore only diapers and T-shirts, so he swaddled one in his own winter coat and wrapped the other in a thin blanket. They were heading for his sister's house, 400 metres away across barren dunes of drifting snow.
But Mr. Pauchay, 24, had been drinking heavily Monday night, his elder sister, Bernita Pauchay, said yesterday. His wife Tracey, 21, had stormed out after a fight earlier that evening, and Mr. Pauchay was left home alone with the children. The day before, he had taken a ride to the local liquor store, where he bought a case of beer and two bottles of whisky.
"My brother was so intoxicated," Bernita, 35, said. "I don't know how big the bottles were, but when he drank whisky he would get real loaded."
Late that night, something happened with Santana that frightened Mr. Pauchay. She may have been sick, Bernita said, or something else may have gone wrong.
"I'm not sure what happened with the baby but he said something was wrong with her," she said.
It prompted Mr. Pauchay to try to run headlong through the snow to his sister's house, possibly because he wanted to get a ride down to the nearby hospital in Kelvington, and he had no phone in his house to call for help.
What's clear is that he never reached his destination.
The tracks he left in the snow cut a twisting, haphazard path that fits with the alcoholic haze he later described from his hospital bed, his sister said.
"You could tell he couldn't see where he was running because he was running right through high snowbanks. You could see the times that he fell," she said.
"He remembers carrying both of the babies, but he was so intoxicated he doesn't really remember anything else," she said.
"He remembers holding both of the babies in his arms and falling all over in the snow. At some point he must have fallen so hard that he dropped one of them and he kept running with the other one, and he was just so scared that he just kept going. He didn't realize that he had dropped one of the girls."
Eventually, he dropped the other girl as well. Four hours later, just before 5 a.m. Tuesday, Mr. Pauchay crawled through the snow to a neighbour's front step. His hand frozen in a claw, he banged on the door, waking someone inside. He was incoherent, the neighbours told his family, suffering from hypothermia and frostbite and still under the influence of alcohol. They called an ambulance, whose crew in turn called the RCMP, and Mr. Pauchay was brought to Kelvington's hospital by 5:30 a.m.
It wasn't until eight hours later that anyone noticed his daughters were missing. At 1:30 p.m., Mr. Pauchay asked hospital staff if his children were all right, which finally set alarm bells ringing.
Later that afternoon, a tuft of dark, curly hair was spotted in a snowbank on the reserve. The RCMP recovered the body of little Santana that day. With the cold and blowing snow it took another 24 hours to recover Kaydence's body, which lay about 50 metres from the spot where her sister was found.
The entire reserve was in mourning yesterday, Yellow Quill Chief Robert Whitehead said.
The officers of the RCMP search-and-rescue team have now been replaced by investigators from the force's major-crimes units. No charges have been laid, and an official cause of death has still to be determined at autopsy, but at this point it appears the two girls froze to death.
"They were cute, pretty girls. They were always happy all the time, when they weren't fighting with each other," their aunt Bernita said. "Everybody is going to miss their curly-headed little smiles."
They belonged to a large family on the reserve, which is located about three hours east of Saskatoon. Christopher is one of nine siblings in the Pauchay family, and his daughters were two of 26 grandchildren.
He and Tracey, his childhood sweetheart, had been together for about eight years, but their fighting had escalated recently, Bernita said.
"Alcohol is a problem," she said. "It's the only time they really fought was when they were drunk."
The couple moved back to the reserve last fall after spending three years in Regina, where Christopher worked at a tire shop. They were hoping for a quieter life, surrounded by the comfort of family.
"You could say [there were] personal problems between them. Tracey would get up and leave and go out and be gone for days, leaving Chris with the girls. That's why I say he was the primary caregiver," Bernita said. "Yesterday we were looking for [Tracey] all over the place and we couldn't find her. We figured she was hiding some place, but my mom found her at my brother Gary's place. She was drinking there the night before."
Tracey had no idea anything was amiss until it was far too late. She's devastated by the news, Bernita said.
"She's taking it real hard. We're all taking it real hard."
Tracey went to visit her husband in hospital yesterday, and spent much of the day being comforted by her mother and aunts.
Christopher will have to remain in hospital for at least a few days, and it's not known whether he'll lose any fingers or toes. His hands are heavily bandaged, and he suffered frostbite on his torso.
"Physically he's getting better but emotionally he's taking it very hard," Bernita said.
Choking back tears, she remembered the happiness the family shared this Christmas as everyone gathered at her house to open gifts. Santana and Kaydence ran around creating havoc, opening their presents when they weren't supposed to, and then opening other people's presents once theirs were done.
"It's sad," she said. "I just want to know what led up to him leaving the house with his kids not dressed properly. What led up to him running with them across the road, especially when it's so cold out? That's what I want to know, and I know he wasn't in his right mind, because he would never put his kids through that."