Cocaine killed Santa Lucia Pizza owner, IIU report clearing officers concludes
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Cocaine use is being blamed for the death in police custody of a well-known restaurateur more than a year ago.
The province’s police watchdog — the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — concluded on Wednesday that George Simeonidis Jr., the owner of Santa Lucia Pizza on Corydon Avenue, died on Nov. 4, 2021, because of cocaine intoxication and not because of anything Winnipeg police officers did or didn’t do.
“The circumstances of this incident represents another tragic example of the illicit use of drugs such as cocaine,” IIU civilian director Zane Tessler said in the report released Wednesday.
“Based on the circumstances, and in consideration of all of the available information, particularly the eyewitness accounts, video footage and medical opinions and findings, there is nothing to support a conclusion that there is any level of contribution by any police officer to the cause of (Simeonidis’) death, either by action or inaction.”
Tessler said the matter is now closed.
Police said the 45-year-old man was walking in and out of Osborne Street traffic near the intersection of River Avenue just after 7 p.m.
Officers were forced to tackle and handcuff him when he tried walking into traffic again instead of allowing paramedics to examine him.
While paramedics were moving him to a stretcher, he stopped breathing and they immediately began CPR.
Simeonidis was rushed to St. Boniface Hospital in critical condition, and was pronounced dead a short time later.
An autopsy report — not received by the IIU until 361 days after Simeonidis’ death — said he died because of cocaine intoxication, with an enlarged heart being a contributing factor.
A toxicology report showed the man had “a substantial and excessive amount of (cocaine) in his system.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Thursday, January 5, 2023 2:59 PM CST: Updates images, adds missing word