POLITICS

Project manager guilty of five criminal charges in scaffolding collapse deaths

06/26/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A Toronto project manager who sent his crew up 13 storeys without being properly secured was convicted Friday in their deaths, more than five years after their scaffolding collapsed and sent them plummeting to the ground.

Vadim Kazenelson was found guilty of four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, for a fifth worker who was seriously injured in the fall on Christmas Eve 2009.

Kazenelson was aware that fall protections were not in place, but he nevertheless allowed his workers to board the swing stage, Ontario Superior Court Judge Ian MacDonnell said.

"In his failure to act, he showed wanton and reckless disregard," MacDonnell said in his judgment. "Not only did he fail to do anything to rectify this obvious and serious peril, he permitted all six of the workers to climb on board the stage with their tools."

Kazenelson sat quietly as his judgment was delivered. Family members of the victims gave each other sombre high-fives and pats on the back as they left the courtroom.

The crew was repairing concrete balconies on an apartment building when the swing stage split in two on Dec. 24, 2009. Kazenelson managed to cling to the 13th-floor balcony but five men plummeted to the ground. Four died and one suffered serious injuries, while another worker — the only one properly secured to a safety lifeline — was left suspended in mid-air.

That worker, Shohruh Tojiddinov, testified during the judge-alone trial that Kazenelson didn't insist crew members be attached to lifelines.

He also said Kazenelson asked him to lie about the incident afterward.

Alesandrs Bondarevs, Aleksey Blumberg, Vladamir Korostin and foreman Fayzullo Fazilov fell 30 metres to their deaths, while Dilshod Marupov survived with fractures to his spine and ribs. The men ranged from 21 to 40 years old and were from Latvia, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

Outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced, Crown attorney Rochelle Direnfeld said she was satisfied with the judge's decision and the reasons behind it.

"We hope that it brings some solace to the families of the victims," she said. "They've gone on with their lives, but it's been very difficult."

Toronto Police Det. Kevin Sedore called the incident a tragedy and said there was no win or lose, but the verdict has brought closure to the families.

"Obviously there's been a long, arduous investigation, in this particular case, six years. The families have coped as best they can with what's happened, and they've tried to move on with their lives," he said.

The construction company involved in the case, Metron Construction Corp., pleaded to criminal negligence causing death and was fined $750,000 in September, 2013 plus a victim surcharge — the first time in Ontario that the Criminal Code had been used to hold a company responsible for a worker's death.

The company that supplied the swing stage, Ottawa-based Swing N Scaff Inc., was fined $350,000 for failing to ensure the platform was in good condition.

Kazenelson will next appear in court Oct. 16, where Judge MacDonnell will begin the sentencing process.