Blue Line

RCMP ask prosecutors to consider charge in B.C. crane collapse that killed 5

February 20, 2024  By The Canadian Press

Feb. 20, 2024, Kelowna, B.C. – RCMP investigators have asked British Columbia prosecutors to consider criminal charges in a July 2021 construction crane collapse that killed five people in the Interior city of Kelowna.

Kelowna Mounties say a report has been submitted “for charge assessment for criminal negligence causing death.”

The BC Prosecution Service confirmed Tuesday it had received the report. Police and prosecutors both declined to provide further details.

The incident happened in downtown Kelowna, when the crane at a residential tower site suffered “a catastrophic failure,” according to operator Stemmer Construction in a lawsuit against the equipment’s manufacturer.

The crane was being dismantled when it fell, killing four men on the site and a fifth man in a neighbouring building.

Construction workers Cailen Vilness, Jared Zook and brothers Patrick and Eric Stemmer died at the scene, and Brad Zawislak was killed while working in a nearby office when part of the crane crashed into his building.

The union representing commercial crane operators in B.C. said the recommendation gives workers “some confidence” that steps are being taken to answer the questions of what happened in the incident.

Josh Towsley with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 said the crane collapse was a “stark reminder” of the dangers faced by workers during crane disassembly and other duties of the occupation in general.

“My initial thoughts, of course, turn to the families of the of the five people that died,” Towsley said. “But our industry in general (is) one step closer to getting the answers that you know that everybody deserves, on what happened that day and what caused the deaths of five people.”

Towsley said the incident shook the commercial crane operator community, and he hopes a report into the incident by WorkSafeBC can eventually be released to provide further insights into what happened.

The fatal collapse spawned a number of lawsuits involving Stemmer Construction and multiple divisions of the Liebherr Corporation that manufactured the crane.

In one lawsuit filed in July 2023, Stemmer is alleging Liebherr’s crane and related manuals may have “contained a dangerous defect, which led to the accident.”

Another lawsuit has been filed against both Stemmer and Liebherr by a man injured in the incident. The man said the crane “collapsed directly onto” Zawislak while he and the plaintiff were working in the office next to the construction site.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Mounties say the investigation was extremely complex and needed to be done methodically and thoroughly to protect the integrity of the case.

Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance said in a statement that the investigation included dozens of police officers and countless hours of evidence-gathering and analysis.

“The gravity of this incident and the associated work to understand what happened has been tremendous. We will work to support our partners and our community through the next steps,” she said.

The crane’s fall knocked out power to most of Kelowna’s downtown core and forced an evacuation of the area as the city declared a state of local emergency.

An evacuation order for nearby residents was lifted a week after the collapse.

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