NEWS

Elliot Lake mall inspector admits omitting details from report

06/07/2013 11:24 EDT | Updated 08/07/2013 05:12 EDT
The engineer who declared the mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., to be structurally sound weeks before a portion of its roof collapsed admitted to changing crucial details in the inspection report while testifying for a second day at an inquiry into last year’s collapse.

Bob Wood admitted that the Algo Centre Mall’s owner Bob Nazarian asked him to change or omit details about the condition of the mall from an inspection report filed in 2012. Wood said he went along with the requested changes on a promise from Nazarian that the problems would get fixed.

"I gullibly believed him," said Wood.

He said he was asked to leave out details concerning a complex tarp system temporarily in place to deal with chronic leaking. He was also asked to leave out words such as “ongoing leakage” and “particular concern” as well as certain photos.

“Our inspection revealed evidence of rusting on the structural steel members where the parking deck was leaking,” Wood told the inquiry.

The report was changed, according to Wood, despite it already being signed-off by senior engineer Greg Saunders.

"How could you do that to your partner?" inquiry lawyer Bruce Carr-Harris asked.

"I apologized to him afterwards and I should not have done it. It was inappropriate," said Wood.

Nazarian is due to testify next month.

During often testy exchanges with lawyers on Thursday, Wood stood by the 2009 inspection report he filed on the Mall.

He said he ignored a city order to inspect the entire mall for structural damage, instead focusing on a few areas identified as problematic.

- Watch: Video reveals how Elliot Lake mall collapsed

The inquiry heard complaints of the roof vibrating when vehicles drove across the mall parking lot. Mall employees told the commission they had expressed concern and former tenants believed that the structure would collapse.

Wood claimed he wasn’t concerned about this section of the parking deck at the time.

“We stood on the deck. We weren’t holding hands but we were standing there while vehicles went by and there was no indication of any problems,” said Wood.

Wood also allegedly told a prospective buyer the roof was in urgent need of repair, an inquiry heard Friday.

In a 2011 conversation relayed by inquiry counsel, Wood allegedly told the developer it would cost $1.5 million to fix the mall's roof.

"It had to be fixed right away, or the roof would cave in," Wood was cited as telling Ron McCowan.

Wood said he could barely recall any such conversation. McCowan has yet to testify.

Carr-Harris pressed Wood about what he might have said, saying the conversation with McCowan suggested the engineer knew the mall was in deep trouble more than six months before its roof caved in.

Wood denied giving McCowan a cost estimate, or telling him the roof was in urgent need of repair or would cave in at some point.

Severe rusting caused the rooftop parking deck to collapse into the building last June, killing two women.

Wood has been charged by the Ontario Ministry of Labour in connection with the collapse and was stripped of his professional engineering licence in November 2011 after admitting to misconduct unrelated to the mall.

The public inquiry established in July 2012 by the Ontario government has been underway in Elliot Lake since March.

It was created to report on events surrounding the mall roof's collapse, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo, the injuries to others and the emergency management and response.

The hearings are expected to conclude with testimony from former premier Dalton McGuinty on Sept. 12.

MORE:cbcNews