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RCMP to review WorkSafeBC’s probe into 2012 death of Burnaby pipe layer

File photo of the RCMP.

John Lehmann/John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

The workplace death of a young pipe layer in Burnaby is now the subject of a criminal investigation by police.

WorkSafeBC confirmed Thursday it has referred the investigation into the Oct. 11, 2012, incident – which killed one man and injured another – to Burnaby RCMP.

Staff Sergeant Major John Buis said his detachment will now review WorkSafeBC's investigation to determine if there is any criminality involved.

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"It will be separate and independent, but relying on a lot of things that they came up with," he said. "And, obviously, if we have to re-interview people or get other evidence, [we will]."

Jeffrey Caron and Thomas Richer were in an excavation pit north of Edinburgh Street installing a storm and sanitation line when a concrete retaining wall adjacent to the pit collapsed.

According to the WorkSafeBC report, Mr. Richer had raised concerns about the conditions twice before: first on Oct. 3, when he told the foreman he thought ground conditions in the pit had changed "to a more sandy material," and then again on the morning of the accident, when he remarked, "The wall looks like it has shifted." Both times, the foreman said not to worry and keep working, according to the report.

After the second complaint, the pipe layers re-entered the pit. Minutes later, the concrete wall fell. It pinned Mr. Caron, a 28-year-old originally from Calgary, and he later died of his injuries. Mr. Richer escaped but suffered "serious physical injuries and significant mental trauma," according to the report.

It cited the City of Burnaby, as well as firms J. Cote & Son Excavating Ltd., Vector Engineering Services Ltd. and Earthbitat Engineering Inc. for failing to recognize and address known hazards at the workplace. Lack of training, lack of communication about the concrete wall, ineffective safety program management and the fact the foreman failed to act on Mr. Richer's concerns also contributed to the fatal accident, the report stated.

WorkSafeBC, which has yet to impose any penalties, is no longer commenting on the matter, instead referring all questions to the Mounties. "We don't want to comment because it's under investigation by RCMP," spokeswoman Megan Johnston said.

Staff Sgt. Buis said it is rare for such investigations to be referred to his detachment. "These don't happen that frequently," he said. "I don't recall many, if any, here in Burnaby."

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Mr. Richer, who now has a tattoo on his right wrist in memory of his former co-worker, launched a "Justice for Jeff" campaign. A Facebook group by the same name, started by Mr. Richer, has nearly 900 members.

In an e-mail, a lawyer for J. Cote & Son said the company is in the process of appealing the relevant WorkSafeBC findings, which were "premised on a mistaken understanding of the steps taken" by the company prior to the accident.

"A neutral and independent third party has already determined that J. Cote complied with safe and good construction practices in connection with its work," wrote lawyer Jonathan Tweedale on Thursday, "and that the incident was neither caused nor contributed to by any alleged unsafe construction practices on the part of our client."

Messages left at the City of Burnaby, Vector Engineering and Earthbitat Engineering were not returned by press time.

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