The man in charge of a high school shop class when a fatal explosion occurred was a "phenomenal teacher" that the school wanted to come back, the school's former principal told an inquest Wednesday.

Scott Day was the teacher in charge when a May 26, 2011, explosion killed Eric Leighton, 18, and injured several other students.

Leighton and fellow student Adam Solimon had been working on a special project to make a barbecue using an old oil drum and had used a hand grinder to cut into the barrel. The power tool caused sparks to ignite a cleaning solvent inside the barrel.

Scott Day

Shop teacher Scott Day said there was no talk 'whatsoever' of cutting a barrel with power tools on the day of the fatal explosion. (Laurie Foster-MacLeod/CBC)

Former principal Mary Ellen Agnel said she had no concerns about the safety of Day's classes.

She said Day, who hasn't returned to teaching since the incident, was great at connecting with students.


Eric Leighton, 18, died in hospital after being injured in an explosion in his high school shop class. (Photo courtesy of Leighton family)

"We want him back," she said.

Day had earlier told the inquest that while he had assigned the barbecue project, he had not given Leighton or any student permission to begin work on the project beyond marking the spots where they would cut.

He testified Wednesday that he told Leighton's classmate Solimon that they may need to cut a barrel they’d be turning into a barbecue with hand tools, not power tools.

He also said he expected the students would talk to him before moving on to each next step in the barbecue-making process, which would include a discussion about safety.

The inquest also heard from Kevin Nearing, Leighton's co-op teacher and a mentor to Day.

Nearing said he thought making a barbecue in what was normally an automotive-centred class was "a really cool idea" and he drove to Williamsburg with Day to pick up some barrels he had ordered.

He said projects such as making a barbecue should have more of a formal approval process exploring potential risks.

The inquest, which began Monday, is expected to last about two weeks and hear from 14 witnesses.

At the end, a jury will make recommendations but will not assign blame.