Brothers in Walkerton accept plea bargain

Brothers at heart of Walkerton's tainted water disaster plead guilty to lesser charge in exchange for 2 others being dropped.

Stan and Frank Koebel, the two brothers at the centre of Walkerton's tainted water tragedy, pleaded guilty to common nuisance in an Ontario court Tuesday.

The charge – laid if someone fails to carry out a legal duty and endangers the lives, safety, health, property or comfort of the public – carries a maximum of two years in jail.

In exchange, two more serious charges – forgery and breach of trust – were dropped.

Victim impact statements will be read during the two-day hearing, after which Crown and defence lawyers will make their cases for sentencing. An Ontario Superior Court judge will then decide whether one or both brothers should go to jail.

Stan Koebel was the manager of Walkerton's water system and his brother Frank was the utility's foreman when a May 2000 E. coli outbreak killed seven people and left 2,500 others ill.

Police charged the pair with public endangerment, breach of trust and uttering forged documents.

At a judicial inquiry into the disaster, both men admitted that they faked well records and allowed water to flow to town residents knowing it was not treated with chlorine.

The inquiry concluded that several factors played a role in the tragedy, including government cutbacks by former Ontario premier Mike Harris.

The almost 5,000 people who live in Walkerton are split over what they think the fate of the Koebels should be. Some believe the pair are simply scapegoats for a flawed system, while others say the responsibility lies with the pair.