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No charges to be laid in deadly mill blast

Jan. 10, 2014, Victoria – No charges will be laid in connection with an explosion and fire that killed two workers at a British Columbia sawmill, the Crown announced Friday.

January 10, 2014
By The Canadian Press

Jan. 10, 2014, Victoria – No charges will be laid in connection with an explosion and fire that killed two workers at a British Columbia sawmill, the Crown announced Friday.

Following a lengthy investigation into the January 2012 incident at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, B.C., WorkSafeBC submitted a report to the Criminal Justice Branch in September.

"Based on the evidence that would likely be available for presentation by Crown Counsel in court, the branch has concluded that there is no substantial likelihood of conviction for any of the regulatory offences recommended by WorkSafeBC," said a statement from the branch.

"The charge assessment analysis included consideration of a viable defence of due diligence."

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Investigators looked at the possibility of charges under both the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, as well as criminal code violations. An earlier RCMP investigation ruled out criminal negligence.

A series of blasts and an ensuing fire at the mill in the small northern B.C. community killed Robert Luggi, 45, and Carl Charlie, 42. Twenty other employees were injured and the mill was destroyed.

A few months later, in April 2012, an explosion at the Lakeland Mills in Prince George, B.C., killed Alan Little, 43 and Glenn Roche, 46. Several other sawmill workers were injured.

Crown lawyers met with the mill workers and family members of those who died in Burns Lake on Friday to advise them of the decision.

No one was immediately available to comment from the community. An official at Hampton Affiliates, the Oregon-based owner of Babine Forest Products, said the company had just been informed of the decision and would issue a statement later Friday after reviewing the information from the Crown.

A lengthy investigation by WorkSafeBC, the provincial workers safety organization, included an outside fire investigation expert who examined the cause of the fire, the Crown said.

The manner of the investigation itself, conducted by the provincial worker safety organization, raised questions about the viability of evidence in court, including failure to obtain search warrants or caution witnesses on their charter rights.

But the Crown said the outcome would have been the same.

"Crown Counsel has concluded that the manner in which (WorkSafeBC) conducted parts of its inspection/investigation would likely render significant evidence that it gathered inadmissible in court," said a statement from the branch.

"Notwithstanding that fact, Crown Counsel was satisfied that the remainder of the available and admissible evidence provides a sufficient factual underpinning for a number of potential offences under provincial legislation."

The investigation did not come up with a conclusive cause for the fire but did determine it ignited in the basement, setting alight combustible sawdust.

"Sawdust accumulation had become a challenge for Babine after it started milling beetle-killed wood in late 2010. Milling beetle-killed wood produces much more dust, and finer dust, than milling green wood," said the Crown.

Though the incident at Babine and Lakeland mills prompted a series of mill inspections and updated safety recommendations in the province, the investigation found that Babine had implemented a series of additional dust mitigation measures after it began milling beetle-killed wood in 2010.

And a WorkSafeBC officer who regularly inspected Babine and other sawmills in the area said the mill's dust conditions were about the same as others.

The possibilities of what started the initial fire range from an open flame to static or friction from an electric motor.

But once the fire began, both an in-house and external expert agreed that it exploded in a violent, fireball through the mill.


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