Algo Centre Mall was 'a mess' before its collapse, woman testifies

A former Elliot Lake, Ont., resident told the trial of the discredited engineer charged in the deadly 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse that the building was a "mess" just months before the disaster.

Witnesses say they were worried enough about the mall's state to take pictures of damage

The trial of former engineer Robert Wood, the only person criminally charged in connection with the 2012 mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont., that killed two women, began this week in Ontario Superior Court in Sault Ste. Marie. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

A former Elliot Lake, Ont., resident told the trial of the discredited engineer charged in the deadly 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse that the building was a "mess" just months before the disaster.

Bonnie Ladell, the second witness at the Ontario Superior Court trial in Sault Ste. Marie, began her testimony Thursday morning in the Crown's case against Robert Wood.

Ladell told the court she had become increasingly nervous about the shopping centre's structure. She testified she felt "exasperated" about cracks in the drywall, leaks and ceiling damage that "appeared to be changing."

Ladell started to document her concerns, photographing loose brick in some areas and problems near the lottery kiosk where the collapse finally happened. She said she even stopped using that entrance area.

"[It] made me nervous," she said.

"I was concerned that the whole fixed ceiling would come down."

In cross-examination, Ladell admitted she did not tell mall management about the issue, because she felt they would not take action based on the state of the building.

'Liquid plaster' fell from ceiling 

The former manager of Peoples Jewellers in the Algo Centre, Alla Guillemette, was called as the Crown's third witness.

She told the court that she once found "liquid plaster" from the ceiling on the floor of her store more than 20 years ago.

Like Ladell, Guillemette started taking photos of what she described as water stains and leakage. 

Guillemette said she tried to address the issue with the shopping centre's manager at the time, Larry Liautaud, but was allegedly asked, "What do you want me to do about it?"

Rejean Aylwin sat in the front row of the courtroom for the third day of proceedings, listening attentively. 

His daughter Lucie was killed when the mall's roof gave way. 

"Everyone knew the mall was leaking from Day 1, but nobody wanted to close the mall."

'Probably would have saved 2 lives'

Aylwin wants to make sure a tragedy like the one that took his daughter never happens again.

"If that mall would've been inspected properly, that probably would have saved two lives and saved a lot of people hurt for nothing."

Wood was the last person to inspect the Algo Centre, calling it "structurally sound" just weeks before it caved in.

Lucie, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed and more than a dozen people were injured when part of the mall's rooftop parking deck came crashing through the ceiling above the lottery kiosk. 

The northern Ontario community also lost its economic and social hub.

The Crown is using Guillemette and Ladell's testimony to give the court a sense of what the shopping centre's condition was like before the disaster — an attempt to set up the argument that Wood's inspection of the mall was flawed, and ultimately contributed to the deaths and severe injuries to a survivor.

Ontario Provincial Police Const. Dale Burns was supposed to continue describing the photos he took of the mall collapse, but his testimony was rescheduled to make time for Guillemette.

Trial adjourned for the week 

On Tuesday, Wood, the only person charged criminally in the case, pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in the case, which is being heard by Justice Edward Gareau.

Wood, who's in his late 60s, could face a life sentence if he is convicted.

He was in the courtroom on Thursday taking notes with his lawyer, Robert MacCrae. He has been studying two diagrams of the mall's floors in the courtroom.

Wood declined to comment on the case. 

His trial resumes on Monday at 10 a.m.

With files from the CBC's Olivia Stefanovich