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The Kelowna crane collapse: three years later

RCMP recommends negligence charge as community continues to grapple with tragedy.

June 10, 2024  By Matt Jones


The Kelowna crane collapse in 2021 killed five people. Photo: Matt Gunn/Crane & Hoist Canada

A three-year RCMP investigation into the Kelowna crane collapse is complete.

The RCMP is recommending a charge of criminal negligence causing death and BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) will now consider whether to move forward with the charge (A decision on that was not made as of Crane & Hoist’s deadline).

“The Kelowna RCMP will be working closely with the BCPS to ensure they are best equipped on the facts of the case to make an informed decision on charges,” reads a Kelowna RCMP news release.

However, the RCMP news release did not specify who the charge would be recommended against.

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There have been multiple suits filed against Stemmer Construction and crane manufacturer Liebherr in the wake of the incident. The suits were filed by widows of victims and other plaintiffs who were impacted.

On the morning of July 12, 2021, the arm collapsed off a tower crane and fell 25 stories, crashing into an office building and a seniors’ home. The crane had been used in the construction of a residential tower by Stemmer Construction and developer Mission Group and was being dismantled when the incident occurred. Four construction workers – Cailen Vilness, Jared Zook, Eric Stemmer and Patrick Stemmer – were killed, as well as office worker Brad Zawislak.

WorkSafeBC and the BC Coroner’s Office each conducted their own investigations into the incident but have not yet released their findings. WorkSafeBC stated it would not release its findings until the investigation was completed. However, a more recent statement indicates it will keep the report under wraps until the charge assessment process is completed.

Potential causes

In discussions with members of the Kelowna crane community, Okanagan Crane & Rigging’s owner Gerhard Ecker mentioned that he was in talks with the tower crane owners to provide mobile crane services to assist in the disassembly.

Ecker asked the person in charge of planning the takedown if they were hiring a professional tower crane erector from the coast or Vancouver to assist them, since the disassembly of a 300-foot-tall tower crane is a critical procedure with no room for errors.

He says they replied that they would bring somebody this time and then they could do it on their own the next time. Okanagan Crane & Rigging ended up not participating in the project as its crane was tied up until after the date for the dismantling of the tower crane. The owners replied they could not wait and needed to proceed right away and hired another crane.

Impacts on crane sector

In the meantime, the incident has led to some apprehension regarding tower cranes in the municipality. Last year, an injunction was filed to prevent Stober Construction from using a tower crane as part of the construction of a residential tower. The injunction was filed by the owners of a nearby apartment complex, who cited the hardships and stress it would place upon their tenants to have a crane looming overhead following the 2021 collapse.

“An unfortunate result of high-profile incidents is that some people might become nervous around equipment that is now a common sight,” notes Clinton Connell, executive director of BC Crane Safety. “We want to remind people that the crane industry is highly regulated under BC’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. Operators require certification and documented training, and BC Crane Safety oversees an industry-governed, competency-based certification system that has become a model for jurisdictions around the world.”

Memorial fundraising continues

In the meantime, the community also continues to raise funding for a memorial to those who were lost in the incident. The North Okanagan Labour Council set a goal of raising $300,000 towards a memorial in Knowles Heritage Park. As of late last year, $123,100 had been raised and another $100,000 worth of donations were in the process of being finalized. Of that, $37,000 came from individual donations while the rest came from unions, businesses and crown corporations.

“BC Crane Safety attended both memorial events in Kelowna and the Board of Directors unanimously approved a donation to the memorial fundraiser,” says Connell. “We are also grateful to see so many contractors and other industry associations step up with donations as well.”

 


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