British Columbia

Before his death on the job, Sam Fitzpatrick told TV crew his worksite was 'pretty dangerous'

Not long before Sam Fitzpatrick was crushed to death by a falling boulder on a Kiewit worksite on B.C.’s Central Coast, he gave an interview to a TV documentary crew about the risks of his work.

Family friends wait for Kiewit's trial for criminal negligence on 11th anniversary of B.C. workplace death

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

Not long before Sam Fitzpatrick was crushed to death by a falling boulder on a Peter Kiewit Sons worksite on B.C.'s Central Coast, he gave an interview to a TV documentary crew about the risks of his work.

Fitzpatrick, 24, was working as a rock scaler with his younger brother Arlen, and the November 2010 episode of the Discovery Channel program Mega Builders shows the pair hanging from ropes as they work to stabilize the steep slope of a hydroelectric project alongside Toba Inlet, north of Powell River.

"When you're going over rock cuts and there's loose rocks everywhere, you can get hit by rocks.… It's pretty dangerous for that," Fitzpatrick tells the producers.

"So far, it's been pretty good. We haven't got hit too bad."

The rock that struck and killed him on Feb. 22, 2009, measured about 1.8 metres across, according to a WorkSafeBC investigation. Arlen was nearby, and watched helplessly as it happened.

Watch: Sam Fitzpatrick speaks about the risks of his job

Sam Fitzpatrick talks to a TV crew about the dangers of his work on a hydroelectric project near B.C.'s Toba Inlet 0:17

In May, a little more than 10 years after that tragedy, Crown prosecutors announced that Kiewit and two former managers had been charged with criminal negligence causing death.

It was the outcome that family and friends had been fighting for.

"I was truly amazed when it actually happened. I was bowled over that it was real," family friend Mike Pearson told CBC this week.

"I'm a big believer in this case and a big cheerleader for it, but I had some skeptical moments."

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

But after that triumph, the last year has only brought more tragedy for Fitzpatrick's family. His mother, Christine Tamburri, died of cancer on Dec. 4 at the age of 65. 

Fitzpatrick's father, Brian Fitzpatrick, died in 2017 after years of advocating for accountability and criminal charges against Kiewit.

"It's almost too much to take, just tragedy piled on top of tragedy in this story," Pearson said.

Company offers 'sincerest, deepest condolences'

Saturday marks exactly 11 years since Fitzpatrick died.

Just one day before the fatal rockfall, another boulder had tumbled down the same steep rock face, seriously damaging a piece of heavy equipment. A WorkSafeBC investigation later found that Kiewit had been running the site with a "reckless disregard" for safety.

Thirty-three days have now been set aside, beginning in November, for a Vancouver provincial court judge to hear evidence against Kiewit. 

Company spokesman Bob Kula told CBC in an email that Kiewit did not "willfully contribute to or cause this fatality" and plans to fight the charge in court.

"We continue to offer our sincerest, deepest condolences to [Fitzpatrick's] family, friends and those who worked with him for their tragic loss," Kula said.

Sam Fitzpatrick grew up in Pemberton, Haida Gwaii and Squamish. (Christine Tamburri)

Engineer Timothy Rule will also stand trial beginning in November. He makes an appearance in the Mega Builders episode about the Toba Inlet project, and tells the producers that the crew is dealing with challenging weather and tight deadlines.

"The main headaches right now are meeting our goals for the season before we get pushed out by snow," he says.

Former Kiewit manager Gerald Karjala is also charged in Fitzpatrick's death, but he's currently in the U.S. and has not made an appearance in court.

Watch: Sam and Arlen Fitzpatrick work on Toba Inlet project

Sam Fitzpatrick uses an air-powered drill to bore holes in rock while younger brother Arlen watches on a Kiewit Corporation hydroelectric project near Toba Inlet. Sam would later be killed by a falling rock on the same site. 0:35

Kiewit is one of the largest construction companies in North America, with a long history of working on B.C. infrastructure projects like the SkyTrain system, the new Port Mann Bridge and the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

Since the criminal charges were laid on May 31, the company has lost out on two major B.C. government contracts: the $1.377-billion replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and the Highway 91/17 upgrades in Delta.

A transportation ministry spokesperson would not comment on whether the criminal charges were a factor in those decisions, but described the procurement process as "open, fair and competitive."

At the federal level, Kiewit has had more success, and was recently awarded the $17.6-million federal contract to clean up the landslide at Big Bar. 

The Government of Canada's Integrity Regime does bar companies from being awarded federal contracts if they are charged or convicted of certain crimes — including fraud, bribery and drug trafficking — but criminal negligence causing death isn't one of them.

Unanswered questions

There's still nearly nine months to go before Kiewit's criminal trial begins, but Pearson said he hopes that extra time will allow prosecutors to gather the best possible case.

Now that both of Fitzpatrick's parents are gone, Pearson plans to take up their search for answers.

He said he's trying to learn all he can about the WorkSafeBC investigation into Fitzpatrick's death, which led to a $250,000 fine against Kiewit. He's also trying to get a better understanding of why the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) reduced that penalty to less than $100,000 after Kiewit appealed.

Pearson is particularly curious about one line in the WCAT decision, which states that Fitzpatrick's union, the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), had argued a precedent-setting fine "was not appropriate given the employer's prior demonstrated commitment to safety."

Pearson wants to know, "How did the CLAC union end up supporting the company and not supporting the dead worker?" 

CLAC was not involved in the pursuit for a criminal investigation into Fitzpatrick's death. The United Steelworkers, which had no direct connection to the fatal incident, helped Brian Fitzpatrick advocate for accountability. 

CLAC spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay


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 or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.


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