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Engineer Charged in Fatal Mall Cave-In

Thursday, May 2, 2013

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An engineer who inspected a rooftop garage at a mall in Ontario weeks before it caved in and crushed two people has been charged with health and safety violations as the public inquiry into the collapse continues.

Robert Wood, a professional engineer, is alleged to have "endangered a worker" by providing "negligent advice," Ontario’s Ministry of Labour announced April 22.


Wood and a colleague from M.R. Wright and Associates examined the mall two months before it collapsed and reported that it was structurally sound.

The Ministry also disclosed that Wood had been found guilty of professional misconduct in 2010 at an unrelated site.

Wood inspected the Algo Centre Mall weeks before the rooftop parking garage tumbled down through multiple levels of the structure on June 23, 2012. Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed in the collapse, and dozens of people were injured.

Wood: Mall ‘Sound’ Before Collapse

Wood and his colleague Gregory Saunders of M.R. Wright and Associates of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, examined the mall in Elliot Lake as recently as April 2012. They also inspected the mall in 2009.

In May 2012, the engineers informed the owners that the mall was structurally sound despite evidence of rust on concrete beams and water damage, according to the Ministry. A copy of the inspection documents and letters to owners can be seen here.

A month later, the structure collapsed. Reports immediately surfaced regarding decades of structural issues including leaks, flooding and fallen tiles.

inside of the mall

Forensic engineers have determined that the 32-year-old Algo Centre Mall leaked since the day it was built until the day it collapsed.

The government of Ontario launched a public judicial inquiry into the incident on March 4, 2013. The hearings have resulted in testimony and scores of evidence regarding the mall’s flawed design, water-proofing system failure, and severe corrosion. Over 75 witnesses are expected to testify.

Engineer Faces Fines, Jail

The Ministry of Labour also charged Wood with allegedly working in a manner “that may endanger a worker.” The “worker” referenced in the charges are not identified in reports.

A copy of the charges against Wood was not immediately available.

The engineer faces a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to 12 months imprisonment if convicted under the province’s health and safety laws.

He is scheduled to appear May 15 at the Ontario Court of Justice in Elliot Lake.

His attorney, Michael O’Neil, told reporters that Wood would plead “not guilty” to the charges, adding that the case makes “no impact on the [Elliot Lake Commission inquiry].”

M.R. Wright and Associates is no longer in business. The assets of the firm were sold to Tulloch Engineering.

Wood is scheduled to testify at the judicial probe June 6 (and 7, if necessary).

Secret Meetings Discovered

At the public inquiry last week, Commissioner Paul Belanger heard that the state of the doomed mall was a topic discussed during “secret” monthly city council meetings for three years, according to a report from CBC news.

Documents reportedly found by commission staff on the computer of a former Elliot Lake city employee referenced the secret meetings.

Algo Centre Mall
NORR report / Ontario Provincial Police

The mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, collapsed June 23, 2012, killing two people.

"[There was] a regular practice of monthly secret meetings—[held] without notice—where subjects [that] the council [was] required by law to discuss only in public were, in fact, discussed secretly, behind closed doors,” Peter Doody, an attorney for the Elliot Lake Inquiry commission, told reporters.

The Commission also heard Tuesday (April 30) that former city building officials had failed to order repairs, despite knowing of the long-running structural problems at the mall.

The testimony echoed previous evidence that the city knew, and were suspicious, of issues but did not act.

Engineer Report Key

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

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 Algo Centre Mall, built in 1980, has been demolished.


Tagged categories: Building design; Building envelope; Building Envelope; Enforcement; Engineers; Fatalities; Health and safety; Parking Garages; Waterproofing

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