New Brunswick

Family speaks out after Saint John man killed at American Iron and Metal plant

Darrell Richards, 60, was the second person fatally injured at the west Saint John scrap-metal yard in the past seven months.

Despite an investigation, AIM is still operating, according to WorkSafeNB

Darrell Richards, who died July 1 in a workplace accident at American Iron and Metal in west Saint John, is being remembered by family and friends as a multi-talented, hardworking man who loved to entertain and made everyone he met feel important. (Submitted by Rick Richards )

Darrell Richards "should have been a standup comedian," according to his younger brother, Rick. 

"If you had a half an hour with my brother, you would be in stitches," he said. 

Like the time Darrell spread around the story that Rick had won $1 million in the lotto, and "somehow worked out an agreement not to tell anyone," said Rick. "You wouldn't believe how many people I had coming up to me, congratulating me. Everywhere I went, I had to explain myself."

Rick was speaking just three days after Darrell died of injuries suffered on the job at the American Iron and Metal plant by Saint John Harbour, the second AIM worker to be fatally injured on the job in the past seven months.

Darrell Richards, far right, pictured with brothers Rick, left, and Keith. (Submitted by Rick Richards )

Born just 14 months apart in a family of 11 siblings on Old Black River Road, Darrell and Rick looked so much alike they could pass for twins. 

"At times he would pretend he was me. I used to call him 'Good Time Darrell.' There wasn't anything that my brother didn't do, and it didn't surprise me at all."

As well as his fun-loving nature, Darrell was known for his many talents: as a Red Seal carpenter, an avid outdoorsman, moose hunter and hunting guide, a drummer, bass player, father, partner, and friend. 

"I can't imagine how many people are affected by his loss, because every time you met Darrell Richards, you felt important. You felt like you were the only person in that moment that mattered to him," said his friend and bandmate Jo-Ann Renton.

Richards leaves behind his partner, Bessie Collins, and three adult children: Danny, Kirk and Darrell. 

Darrell, pictured here on a moose hunt, was a lifelong outdoorsman, according to his brother Rick. (Submitted by Rick Richards )

Few details available 

Rick said he learned of the accident Thursday at the scrap yard at 145 Gateway St. when his niece called his cottage to say Darrell had been hurt. 

"We knew it was a workplace accident, but we had very little information," Rick said, adding that his brother had been employed at the west side plant for "three of four years" doing various jobs. 

On Friday, after spending the night waiting at the hospital, "we realized that he wasn't going to make it," Rick said. "They did all they could do for him. They took him off of life support, and that was it."

Rick said Darrell "was working, cutting some tubes up or something, and something exploded. That's all that's all I can tell you. Whatever happened, it was a sort of an explosion."

The American Iron and Metal yard at 145 Gateway St. on Saint John's lower west side. (Julia Wright, CBC)

2 AIM deaths under investigation by Worksafe

WorkSafeNB is investigating, according to spokesperson Laragh Dooley.

"Complex investigations, such as this one, can take 12 months or more to conclude because the process involves thorough examination of the incident site, witness statements, review of any video footage, examination of any machinery or equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) present, work procedures, and whether the injured worker(s) received adequate training and supervision. 

"We hope this investigation will provide the root cause to prevent a similar tragedy from devastating another family."

Darrell loved to tease people and 'get them going,' according to his brother Rick. He was the seventh in a family of 11 siblings who grew up on Old Black River Road. (Submitted by Rick Richards)

In November, another man died after suffering injuries in a workplace accident at the metal recycling plant. His name and other details were not made public, but WorkSafe launched an investigation into his death. 

AIM has been the site of large fires, numerous explosions, threats of legal action and several stop-work orders since it signed 40-year-lease with the Port of Saint John in 2002.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon called Darrell Richards's death a "tragic accident and on behalf of the City I would like to convey our condolences to the family. Everyone who goes to work should come home safely."

American Iron and Metal's metal recycling operation has been in the crosshairs of neighours, who complain of noise, dust and pollution from the site. (CBC)

AIM's lease is with Port Saint John, which is federal property, and the plant receives its licence to operate from the provincial government. 

As a result, its operations fall outside the City of Saint John's jurisdiction, Reardon said. 

"At a very minimum the regularly occurring explosions must cease."

Plant still operating

While the investigation continues, the AIM plant is still operating, according to WorkSafe.

A stop work order "has been issued for the piece of machinery involved in the incident, a press roller preparing for recycling. The stop work order will be lifted only once our evidence suggests it is safe to operate all rollers," Dooley said.

"WorkSafeNB would only shut down an entire facility only when there is a risk to the whole facility and no health and safety controls are in place. We normally only shut down a part of the work; in this case, the stop work order affects any work involved with the press rollers."

Saint John police have no further updates at this time, according to Sgt. Sean Rocca.

Richards, a lifelong musician, played his last gig with his band Ryan Drive on June 18, according to friend and bandmate Jo-Ann Renton. 'We had a great time. He was always so positive, and just a wonderful person.' (Submitted by Rick Richards )

Remembered as he was

Rick Richards said Darrell's family needs more information about what happened. 

"Am I satisfied? Not really. We would like to know what happened. We want to know more details," he said. 

Darrell never would have wanted family and friends to feel sad on his account, his brother Rick said. 

Richards, third from left, with friends and bandmates Dan Gallant, Jo-Ann Renton, Wendy Hanson, and Jordan Porelle. (Submitted by Jo-Ann Renton)

"He didn't want to have any type of service. He was that type of person. As much as everyone knew him and loved him, he just said, 'I want to be remembered as I was, not at a funeral and people sobbing and crying.'"

Jo-Ann Renton, who played with Darrell for six years in the band Ryan Drive, agreed.

"He would want us to celebrate. He would want us to remember him for the wonderful, joyous person he was — and that's what we plan to do." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julia Wright

Host, Information Morning Saint John

Julia Wright is the host of Information Morning Saint John on CBC Radio 1. She previously worked as a digital reporter focused on stories from southwestern New Brunswick. She has a masters degree in English from McGill University, and has been with the CBC since 2016. You can reach her at julia.wright@cbc.ca.

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