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Engineer charged in Algo Centre Mall collapse

(Canadian OH&S News) 


(Canadian OH&S News) 

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has charged a 64-year-old engineer with three counts of criminal negligence, in connection with the roof collapse at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake on June 23, 2012.

Robert Wood, a Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. native who inspected the mall and concluded that it was structurally safe several weeks before the accident, is facing two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The OPP announced the charges at a media conference in Elliot Lake on Jan. 31.

“He was an engineer who conducted inspections of the building, including the mall, the parking structure and the hotel,” confirmed Detective Superintendent Dave Truax, director of the OPP’s criminal investigation branch. “Our investigation is ongoing.”

If convicted of criminal negligence causing death, Wood could face a sentence of up to life imprisonment. A conviction of criminal negligence causing bodily harm carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, Truax said.

“This was a very unique and challenging investigation for the OPP,” he said, “a lengthy, complex one that needed precise application of criminal law.” He added that several organizations — including Giatec Scientific Inc., Northway-Photomap and Priestly Demolition Inc. — had assisted the OPP in its work.

“But we are most thankful for the people of Elliot Lake for their patience and resiliency.”

The Algo Centre incident claimed the lives of 74-year-old Doloris Perizzolo and 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin, both of whom died when part of the mall’s parking deck collapsed over them. A third person, who received injuries to the upper body, has recovered.

Roger Oatley, a personal injury lawyer who is representing the victims’ families in civil lawsuits, stressed that his clients believed that Wood was not the sole person responsible for the Algo Centre tragedy.

“Wood was only involved for a very short period of time with a specific assignment, and granted, he could have prevented the deaths. He was the last professional person to assess the building before it collapsed,” Oatley said. “But the families want everyone to remember that there are others who had decades to do something about this building.”

Oatley pointed out that other likely responsible parties included past boards of directors for corporations that had owned the building, past city staff and past Elliot Lake mayors — including mayors on the board of directors for Elliot Lake Retirement Living, one of the mall’s former owners.

“What about them?” Oatley asked. “These are people with long periods of responsibility, and as far as the families are concerned, they’re just as much to blame as Wood is.”

News reports have stated that this isn’t Wood’s first accusation of misconduct. He reportedly lost his engineering licence in 2011 for a case involving a bridge rehabilitation project near Wawa, Ont. but was still permitted to practise with some restrictions.

Less than a month after the collapse, the provincial government set up the Elliot Lake Inquiry, designed to review the incident thoroughly and provide recommendations regarding relevant legislation, policies and procedures. The inquiry has heard several accounts regarding Wood’s involvement in the inspections, including testimony from Wood himself, although it has no connection to the criminal investigation. The inquiry’s final report is due on Oct. 31.

“Obviously, there are questions that remain unanswered about the events of that day,” said Truax.

Oatley said that he hoped that the Wood prosecution would provide “some sense of justice for needless deaths” for the victims’ families. He was also hoping for “a much stricter regime spelling out the responsibility of directors of corporations to come clean on information they have about threats to the integrity of a building, and proactive obligations on municipal corporations to do something about buildings in their community.”

Wood is scheduled to appear in court on March 25.