Robert Wood, discredited engineer to inspect Elliot Lake mall before collapse, pleads 'not guilty' at trial
2 women killed in 2012 incident when part of rooftop parking deck crashed down on shopping centre
The only person criminally charged in connection with the deadly 2012 Elliot Lake mall collapse pleaded not guilty at trial in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Tuesday.
Discredited engineer Robert Wood is facing two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
The case is being heard in the Ontario Superior Court in Sault Ste. Marie by Justice Edward Gareau.
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Wood signed off on a report declaring the Algo Centre Mall "structurally sound" just weeks before a portion of its rooftop parking deck caved in.
Two women — Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74 — were killed and more than a dozen others were injured. The northern Ontario community lost its economic and social hub.
"I'm glad to see this trial proceeding, and thought it has been a long time coming," said Gary Gendron, who was engaged to Aylwin.
"No trial or amount of money will bring back my fiancée, Lucie, or [erase] the horrible circumstances in which she passed. However, there needs to be ramifications for the negligent actions that have caused this tragedy."
Wood inspected the Algo Centre Mall in 2009 and 2012. He noted steel supports showed surface rusting, but there was "no visual distress."
In a public inquiry that followed the mall collapse, Commissioner Paul Belanger made special mention of Wood's work and conduct, calling it "markedly inferior."
"His work provided unfounded assurances that gave the mall owner a documented excuse to continue doing nothing," Belanger wrote in his 2014 report.
"His review was similar to that of a mechanic inspecting a car with a cracked engine block who pronounces the vehicle sound because of its good paint job."
Reports changed to appease owner
Wood admitted to changing his 2012 inspection report after he and his partner signed off. He omitted a photo that showed yellow tarps strung up to collect water that was leaking from the roof and a corroded steel beam. He also removed a reference to "ongoing" leakage.
The changes were made, Wood told the inquiry, at the request of the mall's owner, Bob Nazarian, who was trying to refinance the building.
These changes constituted "misleading" and "unprofessional behaviour" by Wood, Belanger wrote.
In a 2011 conversation relayed to the inquiry, Wood was cited telling a prospective buyer it would cost $1.5 million to fix the mall's roof and reportedly warned the structure had to be fixed or the roof would cave in.
Wood told the inquiry he could barely recall any such conversation.
'No additional anticipated charges'
Wood has expressed concern that the inquiry's findings could jeopardize his right to a fair trial.
Ontario Provincial Police do not anticipate laying any more charges in relation to the collapse unless new evidence comes to light.
"There's always the possibility of someone coming forward with additional information or evidence," OPP Det-Supt. Dave Truax said. "But at this point in time, there are no additional anticipated charges."
Reminder for engineers to uphold public safety
The trial is not expected to have any implications with respect to the work of engineers, at least one expert said, but it will reinforce their responsibility to protect the public interest.
"This court case really serves as a reminder to engineers across the province that their duty to society is to regard the welfare of the public as paramount above their obligations to clients or employers," said Gerard McDonald, registrar of Professional Engineers Ontario.
"We're interested in any comments that the court makes regarding engineering and the public interest."
At his request, Wood's trial is taking place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. It is scheduled to last five months.
If convicted, he could face a life sentence.