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Former Kiewit manager arrested in Montana in relation to B.C. worker’s death

Russell Hixson
Former Kiewit manager arrested in Montana in relation to B.C. worker’s death
MIKE PEARSON - Arlen Fitzpatrick (left) poses next to his brother Sam Fitzpatrick on a jobsite. Sam was killed by a falling rock while working on a hydroelectric project at Toba Inlet, B.C. Peter Kiewit Sons, the company in charge of the site, and several of its former employees will now face a criminal trial for his death.

A former manager for Peter Kiewit Sons facing criminal negligence charges for the death of a worker has been arrested in Montana, the B.C. Prosecution Service has confirmed.

Gerald Karjala, an American citizen living in Montana, was arrested by U.S. law enforcement on an extradition warrant issued in the U.S. on July 10 after a request for his extradition from Ottawa.

According to Ian McLeod, a spokesperson for the Canadian Department of Justice, Karjala was released on bail in the U.S. on July 22. McLeod added the matter is currently pending before the U.S. courts and an extradition hearing is scheduled for Nov. 10.

A Canadian warrant was issued for his arrest on May 31, 2019 after he was criminally charged with negligence for the workplace death of Sam Fitzpatrick. 

“The friends of the Fitzpatrick family, myself included, the United Steel Workers’ Union, plus Arlen (Fitzpatrick) and his family will not rest until Kiewit is held responsible for what happened to Sam,” said Mike Pearson, a friend of the Fitzpatrick family who has continued to advocate for the case after Fitzpatrick’s father died in 2017.

Karjala, who is out on bail, has an extradition hearing scheduled for Nov. 10. A trial for the case was scheduled to happen in November but the courts have scheduled a hearing for Sept. 30 to set new trial dates.

Fitzpatrick, 24, was working on a run-of-the-river project construction site near Powell River, B.C. in 2009 when he was struck and killed by a falling rock.

The death incident was investigated by WorkSafeBC in 2011, resulting in a $250,000 fine for the firm. Investigators determined 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 his death, supervisors had frequently documented loose rock hazards during their daily crew meetings. 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.”

Criminal charges were filed under the rarely-used Westray Act, which was established following the 1992 Westray Mine explosion in Nova Scotia that killed 26 miners. It amended the Criminal Code to allow for corporations to be held criminally accountable.

In addition to Kiewit and Karjala, engineer Timothy Rule is also on trial for Fitzpatrick’s death. 

 

 

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