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Engineer in Mall Cave-In Awaits Verdict

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

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Arguments in a criminal case against a former engineer who declared a rooftop parking garage at an Ontario mall structurally sound just weeks before it collapsed and killed two people in 2012 have concluded, but a verdict in the case will be delayed, reports say.

Robert Wood pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal negligence stemming from the Algo Centre Mall collapse in Elliot Lake.

Police Report
Ontario Provincial Police / NORR report

The rooftop parking garage above the Algo Centre Mall caved in June 23, 2012, killing Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and injuring more than a dozen others.

The five-month long trial closed Feb. 3, according to CBC News.

“I hope that everyone will understand and, at least, respect the fact that I’m going to need some time to review and digest this,” Justice Edward Gareau told the parties, noting that he would deliver his decision July 25.

The rooftop parking garage above the Algo Centre Mall caved in June 23, 2012, killing Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and injuring more than a dozen others.

Cause of Collapse

In a report conducted for Ontario Provincial Police in April 2013, engineers concluded: “It is, in fact, somewhat surprising that failure did not happen earlier.”

Elliot Lake Inquiry
File photo / Elliot Lake Inquiry

A 27-month-long public inquiry and review into the fatal mall collapse was also conducted. Robert Wood was the only person to be criminally charged in the case.

The 32-year-old structure leaked water from the day it opened until the day it collapsed. The combination of road salt and water had a lethal effect on the steel structure, according to the report. 

With corrosion levels so severe, it took just one car driving over an unstable welded connection between a support column and beam to cause the cave-in. The collapse was short, lasting for one second, the engineers’ report said.

The mall, built in 1980, has been demolished.

Inquiry Completed

Following the collapse, a 27-month-long public inquiry and review was also conducted.

In issuing a report, Commissioner Paul Belanger, who led the $20 million probe, said that while rust defeated the structure, the disaster was a “human, not material, failure.”

“Some of these failings were minor, some were not: They ranged from apathy, neglect and indifference through mediocrity, ineptitude and incompetence, to outright greed, obfuscation and duplicity,” he said.

However, Wood was the only person to be criminally charged for his alleged role.

Engineer on Trial

During the engineer’s trial, the Superior Court reportedly heard from nearly 50 witnesses.

Crown prosecutors alleged that Wood demonstrated a “wanton and reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others,” in failing to catch the dangerous level of corrosion of the mall’s steel structure.

Wood, on the other hand, testified during trial that he only observed surface rust at the mall.

Norr Report
File Photo / NORR

Corrosion levels at the mall were similar to those observed in a marine-like environment, according to an engineering firm that examined the structure.

He said he did not inspect the area of the building that eventually collapsed during his 2012 inspection because he did not believe the conditions called for further examination, CBC reported. An engineer for 40 years, Wood had been stripped of his professional engineer status after admitting professional misconduct in regards to an unrelated bridge project, the report said.

At trail, Wood also claimed he was “misled” by the mall’s owner Bob Nazarian regarding the long-running leakage issues and had been told that mall maintenance staff had planned repairs.

Wood was also questioned regarding missing photos and omitted information from his final inspection report.

Stay Application

Wood’s attorney, Robert MacRae, has argued that it took too long for his client to get a trial (he was arrested Jan. 31, 2014), and is asking a stay on the charges.

A hearing on the stay application is set for April.

If convicted on the charges, Wood could face a maximum life sentence, reports relate.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridge/parking deck waterproofing; Commercial Construction; Corrosion; Engineers; Health and safety; Parking Garages; Waterproofing

Comment from Gregory Stoner, (2/16/2017, 8:55 AM)

And hear I thought I had read that the owner had knowledge but did nothing. Greed the real culprit.

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