An engineer who had previously been stripped of his professional qualifications for misconduct has been hit with criminal charges for his involvement in the fatal collapse of a shopping mall roof.
64 year-old engineer Robert Wood has been charged by Ontario Provincial Police with two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in relation to the June 2012 roof collapse of a shopping mall in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake.
Wood was entrusted with inspecting the structural integrity of the Algo Centre Mall, the roof of which caved in mere weeks after he signed off on a safety report.
The fatal collapse, which occurred in June 2012, saw a 12 metre by 12 metre segment of the parking deck/roof of the shopping mall plunge through two floors of the shopping centre, scattering concrete and metal debris. The incident left two women dead as well as more than 20 people injured.
The Algo Centre Mall was built at the end of the 1970’s, when its rooftop parking lot was considered an architectural novelty. By the 1990’s, however, the mall already began to suffer from structural problems, including frequent leaks and water damage.
These issues worsened over the following two decades, adversely affecting traffic levels as well as causing a piece of concrete to plunge through the ceiling of a mall restaurant in the summer of 2011. Lengthy and intermittent repair work which eventually cost over $1 million was launched in 2008.
A 2013 inquest launched into the collapse found that the mall suffered from numerous structural problems dating back to its original construction. The inquest isolated the failure of the expansion joint above the escalators as the likely cause of the roof deck collapse, due to a lack of proper binding to the concrete which had necessitated recurrent repair work since the 1980’s.
The inquest also heard that Wood was well aware of the mall’s structural problems, informing a prospective buyer in 2011 that the roof of the mall would collapse without much-needed repair work, whose costs he estimated at the time to be to the order of $1.5 million.
Wood changed his tune, however by the time of inspections, telling the mall’s owner that the shopping mall’s steel supports were “structurally sound” despite surface rusting, and that an inspection of the property revealed “no visual distress.”
Wood has also admitted that he changed the final inspection report dated from May 3 2012 after signing off on it, at the behest of the mall owner who fretted that its poor appearance would adversely affect his changes of obtaining re-financing for it.
These changes included excising a reference to leaks which were “ongoing,” and the removal of photographs showing a corroded steel beam, as well as yellow tarps hung up to collect leaking water.
Further inquiry also revealed that Wood’s professional engineering license was revoked in November 2011, following his admission to unrelated misconduct.