Canada

'Into the ground like a whack-a-mole': Survivor of Radiohead stage collapse angry at lack of answers

Five years after a Toronto stage collapse killed a drum technician with the British rock band Radiohead, a rigger who survived that day remains angry and frustrated at a lack of answers and accountability over the incident.

Rigger for British rock band was standing near drum tech when he was killed

A drum technician for the British rock band Radiohead was killed and a rigger was injured when the stage set up for its show at Downsview Park in Toronto collapsed on June 16, 2012. (Richard Young)

Brian Collins figures he came close to death a few times in his life.  

After all, his work as a rigger for some of the world's biggest music acts has had him acting the role of a backstage spiderman of sorts, climbing the rafters among the engines and pulleys of complex lighting and special effects shows.

But perhaps his closest call happened on a warm day in Toronto in 2012, the day the stage collapsed at Radiohead's Downsview concert.

Brian Collins woke up in Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre with numerous injuries, including a fractured skull, crushed vertebrae, crushed right knee, broken ankle and fractured ribs. (Brian Collins)

The collapse killed the British rock band's 33-year-old drum technician, Scott Johnson. Collins came within a hair's breadth of meeting the same fate.

Five years later, he has become angry and frustrated at the lack of answers and accountability for what ultimately caused the stage to crumple inward, despite a year-long investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Labour and two court cases.

Collins had been called up to the stage to take a closer look at a piece of equipment that seemed to be hanging too low.

"It looked like it was touching the floor after it was raised," he said. "We were called to come up on stage there to investigate to see what the problem was."

'Ran for green pasture'

Collins was standing 1.5 metres from Johnson on the stage when it happened.

"It sounded like something broke, a real loud crack sound. And in my head something made me go, 'Go!' I turned around and I literally ran for green pasture. I saw the green field and something made me run to the end of the stage and jump off the stage."

Collins didn't get far.

"While I was in midair, the roof was coming down and there was a pipe fixed to the roof that hit me on the head and drove me into the ground like whack-a-mole," he said.

It took Collins nearly four months to walk again and 10 months of rehab before he could return to work (Brian Collins)
     

Collins woke up in Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre with a fractured skull, crushed vertebrae, crushed right knee, broken ankle and fractured ribs. It took him nearly four months to walk again and 10 months of rehab before he could return to work.

The effects of that day linger. His left ankle barely moves anymore, a bitter pill to swallow for someone who used to love skiing.

"I can no longer pull any kind of weight with my back and I have no balance. Pretty much most of my balance [is] on my left ankle, which is not good when you're walking on beams a hundred feet in the air."

Collins is back at work. These days he is Green Day's head rigger but he's not as nimble or athletic as he used to be and it's a tough slog.

'Pain in my back'

"I have pain in my back. I can't lean forward for very long, I can't sit back, I have to sort of keep moving around my back and it's hard for me to be laying down for any stretch of time," Collins said.

From his Florida home, Collins watched the case against Live Nation, Optex Staging and engineer Domenic Cugliari wind its way through the Ontario courts.

In total, there were 13 charges under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act. Court proceedings began in 2013. All three of the accused pleaded not guilty.

Collins says it took four months for him to learn to walk again after the Radiohead stage collapse. (Brian Collins)

The first judge declared a mistrial after being appointed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The second judge ruled in September 2017 that the case had taken too long to move through the courts and that the defendants' charter rights would be violated if the second trial were allowed to proceed into 2018.

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that delays beyond 30 months for Superior Court cases and 18 months in provincial courts violate an accused's charter right to be tried within a reasonable time

When all the charges were stayed in September, Collins says he was "truly disgusted" and furious no one was held accountable in the collapse.

Collins has worked as a rigger for some of the world's biggest music acts. (Brian Collins)

"There is somebody at fault. There really is no such thing as accidents here on this planet." Collins said.

"If I'm walking in the woods and a branch breaks and hits me and I am injured that would be an accident. In this case, somebody is at fault. Somebody did something somewhere along the chain that caused this to happen. This is not an accident."

CBC News has learned that on Thursday, the office of the chief coroner of Ontario will formally call for an inquest into the collapse.

Although angry the charges in the case were stayed, Collins is pleased there will be the inquest.

"Any kind of fact-finding mission is a good thing to me. Anything that reveals the truth? I'm all for that."

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