BRITISH COLUMBIA

John Wilson Mining Accident: Daughters Angry Charges Weren't Laid

10/16/2013 05:59 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
VANCOUVER - The daughter of a miner who drowned in an industrial accident says she won't give up her fight for justice, even though prosecutors have decided not to lay criminal charges in her father's death.

John Wilson, 61, died when the excavator he was operating overturned into a water-filled sump at the Craigmont Mine near Merritt, B.C., in February 2008.

"He was on the crest of his retirement, and to work so hard all of his life and to lose his life at work at that stage is a tragedy," Tammy Savinkoff said through tears Wednesday. "And to have grandchildren that will never get to really know him is so upsetting."

The province's Criminal Justice Branch announced earlier this month that charges wouldn't be laid in the case because there wasn't a likelihood of conviction against the mine, its manager or a supervisor.

The branch also announced the six-month time limit to lay charges under the Mines Act had expired.

"It outrages me, it really upsets all of us," said Savinkoff, one of Wilson's two daughters.

"It kind of brings it all up again to the forefront, where you've kind of been thinking OK, there's this outlet for justice for my dad, and now that door, in essence, has been closed as far as the Crown's concerned," she said, calling her father a fun-loving guy.

However, Savinkoff said there is still the chance of a private prosecution. Last week, the United Steelworkers union announced it is considering such a move.

Earlier Wednesday, Savinkoff and her sister, Tracy Wilson, said in a joint statement that the initial investigation was incomplete, inadequate and ineffective.

They also said the RCMP investigation was painfully slow and often interrupted, while the Crown's reasons for clearing the mining firm lacked facts including information from the inspector of mines.

Prosecution or not, Savinkoff said she'd like the six-month time limit for prosecution under the Mines Act increased and police given more training on investigating workplace accidents.

Neil MacKenzie, a spokesman for the Criminal Justice Branch, said in a statement the agency recognizes its decisions can be difficult for some to accept and understand. He said that's why it notifies the affected parties, and in appropriate cases issues a statement explaining its decision, which it has done in this case.

"The branch appreciates that Mr. Wilson’s family has suffered a tragic loss, however, our decisions must be made on the basis of a careful review of the available evidence and a principled application of the relevant law to the circumstances of the individual case," he said.

According to an Oct. 4 statement by the Criminal Justice Branch, Wilson was operating an excavator in a low-lying area of the mine site when the accident occurred.

The excavator's cab had a single door, although there was a hatch on the roof of the cab and windows. On top of the cab, though, was a brush guard that protected it from falling objects.

The branch said a metal pin in the brush guard prevented the hatch from opening, and screens covered the windows.

As a result, the hatch on top of the cab couldn't be used because of the brush guard, it said.

"It is not clear, from the evidence as a whole, whether the loss of this means of egress factually contributed to Mr. Wilson's death, in whole or in part."

The branch said it could not prove the mine manager was aware of the roof hatch situation and did nothing to correct it. It said a training and safety committee operated at the mine, but a review of their records "shows no mention of the brush guard being formally raised or considered as a safety issue."

Union spokesman Richard Boyce has since challenged those statements, saying investigators didn't speak to workers who called for bars to be removed from the excavator's windows and roof, an issue that was raised at more than one safety meeting and would have allowed Wilson to escape.

Boyce said one worker even held onto Wilson's hand and felt it go limp after the excavator overturned.

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