Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | August 31, 2021
Construction company Kiewit and several of its managers will no longer face criminal charges for the death of a worker who was crushed by a boulder at a B.C. work site.
The BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) announced today that a stay of proceedings has been entered in the case against Peter Kiewit Sons ULC (Kiewit), Timothy Rule and Gerald Karjala.
The parties were charged with criminal negligence causing death after Samuel Fitzpatrick was struck and killed by a boulder in 2009. Fitzpatrick was working as a drill and blast crew scaler on a Kiewit hydroelectric project near Toba Inlet.
Throughout the years leading up to the trial, Kiewit officials maintained that they disagreed with the charges and intended to defend itself in court.
The case was initially investigated by WorkSafeBC in conjunction with the RCMP and the BC Coroners Service. After the conclusion of the WorkSafeBC proceedings in 2013 the police initiated a criminal investigation in 2014.
According to the province, the various investigations were lengthy and complex. Charges were approved in May 2019. The matter was set for trial commencing on September 7, 2021 but that will no longer happen.
“The BCPS has recently determined that the available evidence no longer satisfies the charge assessment standard for the continued prosecution of the charged corporation and individuals for any criminal offence,” read a statement from the province. “As a consequence, a stay of proceedings was directed in the case.”
The announcement comes after friends, family and unions spent years urging officials to investigate the case. Fitzpatrick’s death resulted in a $250,000 fine for the firm from WorkSafeBC, the highest penalty imposed that year. Investigators determined that Fitzpatrick was fatally struck by a rock estimated to be over 1.5 metres in diameter after the company had allowed work to proceed without clearing loose material uphill.
Prior to the injury, supervisors had frequently documented loose rock hazards during their daily crew meetings, and the day before Fitzpatrick’s death a massive rock had fallen and damaged equipment. Investigators wrote that hazards weren’t properly controlled and crews continued to work in dangerous areas.
Despite unstable material being identified in risk assessment, WorkSafeBC found that the company failed to adequately train workers for the land clearing work, the investigation concluded.
The fine was successfully appealed and reduced to less than $100,000. The appeal tribunal ruled it could not determine if company decisions directly led to the boulder striking the worker.
Despite this, the tribunal did note that the company had “committed high risk violations with reckless disregard.”
This is a developing story and the Journal of Commerce will update as more information becomes available.