Grieving mother welcomes RCMP investigation into son's death

Cindy Kahm is happy the RCMP are investigating the death of her son, Jeff Caron.

Pipe-layer Jeff Caron was killed on Oct. 11, 2012 when a wall collapsed on him in BC

Cindy Kahm holding a picture of her son, Jeff Caron. Caron was killed in 2012 after a trench collapse in Burnaby, BC. (David Shield, CBC)

A workplace accident in which a 28-year-old pipe-layer was crushed to death while working in a trench in Burnaby, B.C. is the focus of a rare criminal investigation by the RCMP.

Jeff Caron, born and raised in Saskatchewan, was killed on Oct. 11, 2012, when a concrete wall collapsed on him while he was replacing sewer lines for the City of Burnaby.

Caron's mother Cindy Kahm says she welcomes the investigation.

"Hallelujah. Thank you. There's somebody that's listening" said Kahm, when the CBC informed her police were now looking into the accident.

The British Columbia Workers' Compensation Board forwarded the file on to the RCMP after holding its own investigation.

Angry worker

Fellow worker Thomas Richer was in the trench with Caron when it collapsed. Ever since, he's been asking for criminal charges.

Richer says he warned his foreman before the accident that a crack in the concrete retaining wall above their trench was getting bigger.

"I told him, this isn't safe, we shouldn't be in here" says Richer, who claims the foreman did not listen to him.

"The wall is shifting. It's not safe, the thing is going to fall. No, we were ordered back in the trench."

According to WorkSafeBC's inspection report, 10 minutes later, the wall cracked in two and collapsed, fatally crushing Caron and fracturing Richer's ribs.

"I watched the wall come and hit Jeff in the centre of the back and just reached out", says Richer.

Jeff Caron was killed in a construction accident in 2012. (CBC)

Grieving Mother

Cindy Kahm says the last several years have been difficult.

Living on the Little Pine First Nation near North Battleford, Kahm says she has often felt ignored by the worker's compensation board investigation.

Kahm says the death completely devastated her.

"It was the worst day of my life," she said. "And it has been ever since. It's not just one day that I think of him. He's in my mind. His beautiful smile."

While Kahm is grateful more attention is being paid to her son's death, she still wonders how her son's life would have turned out if he were alive today.

Kahm says her son was saving up money to go to university, and wanted to become an actor.

It's a difficult thing to go through. when you lose somebody that had a life you know he just had so much going for him. in his life. He didn't even have a wife or children. 

Hazards were not addressed

At the time of the incident, Caron and Richer were working for J Cote and Son Excavating, which was hired by the City of Burnaby to do the work, in conjunction with Earthbitat Engineering and Vector Engineering.

WorkSafeBC's investigation concluded that the City of Burnaby, the excavation company and the two engineering firms all failed to address the hazard presented by the wall.

The agency issued six orders to J Cote and Son, for failing to provide a safety program, failing to recognize hazards, and failing to deal with them when workers reported them.

It also issued orders to the City of Burnaby, for failing to provide information about the hazards posed by the structure and failing to report apparently hazardous structures next to the excavation.

WorkSafeBC also concluded that a failure by the professional engineer at Earthbitat to recognize the hazardous conditions imposed by structures "directly adjacent to an excavation" was an underlying factor in the incident.

The agency's report says work should have stopped the moment Richer voiced concerns, but it didn't. It also found the workers were not sufficiently informed of their right to refuse unsafe work.

Excavation firm denies responsibility

The excavation company, J Cote and Son, says the trench was dug as instructed by the professional engineer.

Earthbitat Engineering would not comment when contacted by CBC.

In a statement, J Cote and Son's lawyer says the excavation company is appealing WorkSafeBC's findings which "are premised on a mistaken understanding of the steps taken prior to the…. accident."

The company says an independent third party confirms its opinion. In addition, J Cote and Son is suing the City of Burnaby for the delay and extra costs incurred after the accident, under the terms of their contract.

City of Burnaby blames engineers

In its response to the lawsuit from J Cote and Son​, the City of Burnaby says the wall was "clearly visible" and that a geotechnical report recommended the work be done using "a trench shoring box and restricted sidewalls."

WorkSafeBC found the City of Burnaby failed to provide its contractor with information about the hazards posed by the wall.

Burnaby Mayor Derrick Corrigan says the city may apply for a review of WorkSafeBC's findings. 

"We're certainly going to seek some sort of recourse in order to correct the record before anyone draws any conclusions about the city's role in these circumstances," Corrigan said.

"That being said, we feel absolutely terrible that a worker was killed on a job for the City of Burnaby."

Corrigan says the city will co-operate fully with the police investigation.

Meanwhile, the city is suing Earthbitat Engineering​ by way of a Third Party Notice, saying the city is not responsible for the fatal accident and pointing the finger at the engineering firm.