Nova Scotia

1st Nova Scotian charged under 'Westray Law' found not guilty in death of mechanic

Elie Hoyeck was charged with criminal negligence causing death after a September 2013 minivan fire at his Cole Harbour, N.S., auto-repair business killed employee Peter Kempton.

Hoyeck charged with criminal negligence causing death in 2013 fire that killed Peter Kempton

Elie Hoyeck, owner of Your Mechanic Auto Corner, is shown outside court after he was found not guilty of criminal negligence causing death. (CBC)

The first Nova Scotian charged under the so-called Westray Law has been found not guilty of criminal negligence causing death for the fire that took the life of an employee at an auto-repair business.

Elie Hoyeck was charged after a September 2013 minivan fire at his Cole Harbour, N.S., auto shop killed mechanic Peter Kempton. Hoyeck pleaded not guilty and was tried by judge alone in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.  

The court has heard that Kempton was using an acetylene torch to remove the gas tank from a derelict minivan when the vehicle caught fire at Your Mechanic Auto Corner.

An expert witness, David Giles, also testified the garage was not a safe place to work, and had numerous trip hazards, fire hazards, electrical issues and other safety concerns.

In his decision on Friday, Justice James Chipman said it was clear, based on Giles's testimony, that Hoyeck's business was an "accident waiting to happen." He added that after reviewing evidence, he has great difficulty believing that anything Hoyeck had to say was reliable. 

But he said that he rejects the prosecution's argument that Hoyeck instructed Kempton to use the torch to remove the gas tank.

"Without question Your Mechanic was in a deplorable state as at September 20, 2013, the Crown's expert pointed to a litany of failures and I accept this unchallenged evidence. I would add that the photographs speak volumes as they show an unkept, embarrassingly messy property with multiple potential hazards," said Justice Chipman. 

"On top of this we have an accused who spoke ill of the dead in a disrespectful manner. Mr. Hoyeck's pejorative comments about Mr. Kempton are most unsettling and I can only imagine how they must affect Mr. Kempton's surviving family. Nevertheless, the task of the Court must be to consider the charge having regard to all of the evidence and the governing law."

Peter Kempton was a licensed mechanic at Your Mechanic Auto Corner in Dartmouth when he died in September 2013. (CBC)

He also said that Kempton was a trained mechanic and that it was his own negligence that led to the fire.

Halifax Crown attorney Alex Keaveny said the prosecution and the Kempton's family are disappointed with the decision. 

"You can imagine this has been more than five years that they've been dealing with this, so they're obviously pretty upset," he said outside of court on Friday. 

Hoyeck still faces 11 occupational health and safety charges. That matter will be back in court on Tuesday.

The Westray Bill was introduced after the 1992 Westray mine disaster in Plymouth, N.S., that killed 26 miners. It is a Criminal Code amendment aimed at making it easier to hold employers accountable for deaths or injuries in the workplace.