British Columbia

Friends and family still wait for criminal trial, 12 years after Sam Fitzpatrick died on the job

It's now been 12 years since Sam Fitzpatrick was crushed to death by a falling boulder on a Peter Kiewit Sons worksite on B.C.'s Central Coast, and his friends and family are still waiting for those they hold responsible to stand trial.

Peter Kiewit Sons and 2 former managers face charges of criminal negligence causing death in B.C. incident

Sam Fitzpatrick, 24, was killed by a falling boulder on a Kiewit worksite in B.C.'s Toba Inlet on Feb. 22, 2009. (Christine Tamburri)

It's now been 12 years since Sam Fitzpatrick was crushed to death by a falling boulder on a Peter Kiewit Sons worksite on B.C.'s Central Coast, and his friends and family are still waiting for those they hold responsible to stand trial.

The company and two former managers were supposed to begin their trial last November for criminal negligence causing death, but the start date has now been pushed back to Sept. 7, 2021.

Family friend Mike Pearson told CBC that no matter when the trial happens, he would like to see jail time in connection with Fitzpatrick's death.

"The Kiewit corporation is refusing to take responsibility for what happened to Sam," Pearson said.

"Protecting their image and reputation has a higher importance than admitting their errors and getting on with life and business."

A company spokesperson has told CBC that Kiewit did not "willfully contribute to or cause this fatality," and they plan to fight the charge in court.

Fitzpatrick was killed on Feb. 22, 2009 while working as a rock scaler on a hydroelectric project near Toba Inlet, north of Powell River. His younger brother Arlen watched helplessly as a rock measuring 1.8 metres across fell on Fitzpatrick from above, according to a WorkSafeBC investigation

Investigators found that Kiewit had been running the site with a "reckless disregard" for safety. Just one day before the fatal rockfall, another boulder had tumbled down the same steep rock face, seriously damaging a piece of heavy equipment, and Fitzpatrick had spoken up about safety issues on the site in the weeks before he died.

WorkSafeBC's probe led to a $250,000 fine against Kiewit, but the company appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal, which reduced the penalty to less than $100,000.

Fitzpatrick's father led push for criminal investigation

That process infuriated Fitzpatrick's father, Brian. Pearson described Kiewit's decision as "the trigger" that led him and Brian Fitzpatrick to turn to the RCMP and urge them to investigate.

"All they had to do was just pay the fine and move on," Pearson said of Kiewit.

"It still would have been sad and tragic. It still would have broken our hearts, but we would have grudgingly accepted it."

Sam Fitzpatrick's younger brother. Arlen, left, was working beside Sam when he was killed. (Mike Pearson)

Police opened an investigation in 2014. Five years later, Crown prosecutors announced criminal charges against the company, former manager Gerald Karjala and engineer Timothy Rule. The charges have been called unprecedented for a business of this size.

Sadly, Brian Fitzpatrick did not live to see those charges laid. He died of a heart attack during routine surgery in 2017. Sam Fitzpatrick's mother, Christine Tamburri, lived long enough to see the charges approved, but died of cancer a few months later.

Lawyers for Kiewit and Rule made their first appearance in Vancouver provincial court in July 2019. Karjala is currently living in the U.S. He was arrested in Montana last summer and is now the subject of an extradition process in that state's courts.

The trial is currently scheduled to last for 33 days beginning in September.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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