Canada

Stan Koebel gets 1 year in jail, Frank 9 months house arrest

Stan Koebel gets 1 year in jail, Frank 9 months house arrest in Walkerton tainted water tragedy.

Stan and Frank Koebel received their sentences Monday for their role in a deadly E. coli outbreak in a small Ontario town in May 2000.

Former Walkerton, Ont. utilities manager Stan Koebel was sentenced to one year in jail, while younger brother Frank, who was water foreman, got a nine-month conditional house arrest.

Heavy rain had caused Walkerton's drinking water to become contaminated four and a half years ago, but the Koebels apparently did little despite complaints from the town's residents about vomiting and diarrhea.

Seven of the town's people died and 2,500 others fell ill during the tainted water crisis.

Stan and Frank pleaded guilty to criminal charges last month.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Bruce Durno took more than two hours to read out and explain his ruling.

He stressed there was never any intent on the part of the Koebels to harm anyone, but found them negligent in discharging their duties.

"No sentence I could impose can assuage the enormous losses," Durno told a packed courtroom. "But, the offenders are not being sentenced for being the cause of the Walkerton water tragedy."

Durno determined that greater blame lay with Stan, whom he held responsible for delaying a boil water advisory, even though both he and Frank knew from May 17 there were unsafe levels of E. coli in Walkerton's tap water.

He found that Stan lied about this to government officials for two days.

Frank's conditional sentence will consist of six months house arrest followed by three months of night curfew.

Frank will be allowed out of his house in cases of medical emergencies, limited Saturday shopping, job interviews, Sunday church services and the like.

Stan's lawyer Bill Trudel, who did not rule out an appeal, said the judge had agreed that Koebel was "a very decent man who had made grave mistakes."

Brothers originally faced more serious charges

The Koebels had originally been charged with public endangerment, fraud and breach of trust.

But they reached a plea bargain last month after admitting they failed to monitor and treat the town's water supply properly. The news caused dismay among many of Walkerton's residents.

The offence, formally called common nuisance, carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail.

Prosecutor Dave Foulds had called for a sentence near the maximum for 51-year-old Stan, and a conditional sentence or house arrest for his 46-year-old brother.

Foulds said the sentence sent a "sharp and clear message" that those who don't perform their legal duties and are employed in an occupation of any kind where public safety is affected, "there's a real risk you can be sentenced to jail."

Defence lawyers portrayed them as upstanding, civic-minded men who meant no harm and spared victims and taxpayers a lengthy trial. They asked that the brothers be given conditional discharges, leaving them without criminal records.

They also argued the Koebels were victims of selective prosecution because Environment Ministry officials didn't do their jobs properly and the former Conservative government had slashed their budget.

Many residents consider the Koebels to have been scapegoats, while others argue they got off too lightly given the devastation the bad tap water caused.

"There's no clean end to this," said Bruce Davidson of Concerned Walkerton Citizens.

The tragedy led to an overhaul of Ontario's drinking water legislation.