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Worker offered to translate for taser victim, inquiry told Add to ...

An airport worker offered to translate for Robert Dziekanski minutes before he was stunned by an RCMP taser and died on the floor of Vancouver's airport.

Karol Vrba, a maintenance worker at the airport and rookie firefighter, told a public inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski's death yesterday that he was told by airport staff that he wasn't needed.

The airport's operation centre began to receive calls early the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, about a man throwing furniture in the international arrivals area of the airport.

They were told the man didn't speak English - possibly Russian - and were asked to send the RCMP.

Mr. Vrba told the inquiry that he walked into the operations centre and saw people on the phone.

He asked a woman in the office, where the security response was being co-ordinated, what was happening.

"I talked to her, and asked her what's going on, and she told me there is a guy probably speaking Russian in the international terminal and he's doing a disturbance," Mr. Vrba told the inquiry.

Mr. Vrba speaks English, Czech, Slovak, Russian and some Polish.

"So I told her, 'You know I speak Russian, so if you need me you can reach me on my radio.' "

The woman's response, Mr. Vrba said, was simply, "Don't worry about it."

Mr. Vrba left the office, completed his task and returned 40 minutes later.

By then, four RCMP officers had confronted Mr. Dziekanski and stunned him with a taser five times. He was lying dead on the floor of the airport.

"So I told them, 'Why you didn't call me on my radio? I told you I can help,"' Mr. Vrba said.

"I was shocked I wasn't called."

Even though security personnel had Mr. Dziekanski's language wrong, Mr. Vrba said he still would have been able to communicate with the man in Polish.

Mr. Vrba, who was born in Czechoslovakia in what is now Slovakia, said he and Mr. Dziekanski would have been able to understand one another if they spoke slowly.

In addition to speaking a "little bit" of Polish, Mr. Vrba said Slovak and Polish are very similar.

The airport, the Canadian Border Services Agency and the RCMP have all been criticized for not calling a translator.

Mr. Dziekanski had been lost in the airport for nearly 10 hours when he started throwing furniture.

Witnesses have said that as officers approached, they were told that Mr. Dziekanski didn't speak English.

The RCMP officers involved are scheduled to appear at the inquiry at a later date.

Meanwhile, a witness told the inquiry earlier yesterday that after Mr. Dziekanski was shocked with the taser, an officer pinned him to the floor with a knee to his back.

Nick Le, a limo driver who was at the airport to pick up a passenger, said he happened upon the scene after Mr. Dziekanski was shocked.

Mr. Le said he saw three of the officers hovering over Mr. Dziekanski; two of them were holding Mr. Dziekanski's hands.

"What I saw is one of the officers use his knee right on top of the centre back of the man," Mr. Le said. "And that is very dangerous."

A lawyer for one of the officers, David Butcher, immediately objected to Mr. Le's characterization, saying he should stick to his observations, not his opinion.

But Mr. Le said he has studied martial arts since the age of four, and he felt the officer's actions were dangerous.

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