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Police recommend criminal negligence charge in fatal Kelowna crane collapse

The Kelowna RCMP has wrapped up its lengthy investigation into a downtown crane collapse that killed five people in July 2021.

“A report has been submitted to the BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) for charge assessment for criminal negligence causing death,” explained a Tuesday morning media release.

However, the Kelowna RCMP said it was unable to provide additional details about the charge recommendation or the overall investigation and findings.

<who>Photo Credit: Dustyn Baulkham

Police called the probe into the incident “extremely complex,” adding that it was done “methodically and thoroughly” to protect the integrity of the investigation.

“This investigation included dozens of police officers and countless hours of evidence gathering and analysis,” said Supt. Kara Triance. “The gravity of this incident and the associated work to understand what happened has been tremendous.”

The Kelowna RCMP noted that it will work closely with the BCPS to ensure they’re best equipped on the facts of the case to make an informed decision on charges.

“We will work to support our partners and our community through the next steps,” Triance said.

The collapse happened as the crane was being dismantled on the site of the Brooklyn building in downtown Kelowna on July 12, 2021.

The victims included construction workers Jared Zook, Cailen Vilness and brothers Patrick and Eric Stemmer, along with office worker Brad Zawislak, who was crushed while working in a building next to the site.

In May 2023, WorkSafeBC said it had completed its incident investigation into the fatal crane collapse, but the results of that probe have yet to be made public.

“A decision has been made, in consultation with the RCMP, to not release the WorkSafeBC investigation report publicly, at this time, to ensure it does not jeopardize the ongoing and concurrent criminal investigation,” WorkSafeBC said at the time.

<who>Photo Credit: United Way British Columbia</who>(L to R) Patrick Stemmer, Eric Stemmer, Cailen Vilness, Jared Zook and Brad Zawislak all died in the July 2021 tragedy.

Last summer, several civil suits were launched in connection to the incident, with Stemmer Construction Ltd., the company that owned and operated the crane, Liebherr-Canada Ltd., the crane manufacturer, and the Mission Group, the Kelowna-based developer behind the Brooklyn project, listed as defendants.

That includes lawsuits filed by four women widowed by the crane collapse in Helen Furuya, Katherine Stemmer, Nikita Stemmer and Jaydean Rose Braham.

In one lawsuit filed in July 2023, Stemmer is alleging Liebherr’s crane and related manuals may have "contained a dangerous defect, which led to the accident."

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The union representing 13,000 British Columbia workers including commercial crane operators says the recommendation gives workers "some confidence" steps are being taken to answer the questions of what happened in the incident.

Josh Towsley with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 says the crane collapse was a "stark reminder" of the dangers faced by workers during crane disassembly and other duties of the occupation in general.

"My initial thoughts, of course, turn to the families of the of the five people that died," Towsley says.

"But our industry in general are one step closer to getting the answers that you know that everybody deserves, on what happened that day and what caused the deaths of five people."

Fundraising is ongoing for a memorial to honour the five lives lost in the tragic incident, with a plan to build it in Knowles Heritage Park downtown.

Around $124,000 has been raised toward a $300,000 goal and the hope is that the monument can be built in time to be unveiled on July 12, 2024, the three year anniversary of the collapse.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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