Accused testifies another worker installed plug that pinned teen under water
WARNING: This story contains graphic content some readers may find disturbing.
A man accused of criminal negligence in connection to a workplace death says he wasn't the one who set up the plug that pinned his worker under water.
Jason King testified Thursday that Colin King, who is his cousin, installed the plug that ultimately slid out of a pipe and pinned Michael Henderson inside a hole in a clarifier as water filled it.
King also testified he was told Henderson wouldn't be working in the hole after lunch, which is when he started carrying out a test that ultimately led to the plug failing, resulting in Henderson's death.
"I asked [Colin King] how things were going and approximately what time he thought they'd be finished," said Jason King.
"He said around lunch time."
Henderson was working for Springhill Construction Ltd. when he drowned at a construction site at Fredericton's sewage treatment plant on Barker Street on Aug. 16, 2018.
King, who was the foreman for Springhill on the site that day, testified in his own defence as part of the judge-alone trial being heard by New Brunswick Court of King's Bench Justice Thomas Christie.
Earlier testimony revealed that Springhill was the general contracting company hired to construct a large concrete pool-like structure at the sewage plant, known as a clarifier.
The clarifier had a hole in the middle of it, and at the bottom of that hole was a horizontal pipe running several metres to the bottom of a nearby manhole.
In the weeks leading up to Henderson's death, King discussed plans to use a large inflatable plug to seal the horizontal pipe, and then fill the manhole with water to test whether the pipe was watertight.
On the morning of Aug. 16, Henderson and Colin King were tasked with cleaning out the bottom of the hole at the centre of the clarifier.
Jason King started filling the manhole with water shortly before noon that day, and kept it running for close to an hour.
Shortly before 1 p.m., the plug slid out of the pipe while Henderson was in the hole, pinning him to the wall as water rose above his head. He'd remain under water for several minutes before first responders were able to free him.
1 plug serving 2 roles
Much of the testimony in the trial has centred around the use of a large inflatable plug and the role it played in Henderson's death.
King testified that he'd never worked with a plug before, but that Colin King had used one twice prior on the job site.
Jason King testified that on that day he assigned Colin King and Henderson the task of cleaning out the bottom of the hole at the centre of the clarifier, as it had become filled with water and debris.
He said later that morning, Colin King came to him saying that he wanted to install a plug in the pipe running horizontally from the hole to stop groundwater that was leaking into the bottom of the hole.
Jason King said he went down into the clarifier at about 10:30 a.m. to check on the work and saw Henderson cleaning out the bottom of the hole with the plug installed.
He said Colin King told him at that time the work to clean out the hole would be done by noon.
"Since the plug was in place, and it was assumed they were going to be done their work by [lunch] time, I thought it might be an opportune time to run the test," Jason King said.
King said shortly before noon, he started running water into the manhole as part of the test to determine whether the pipe running from the bottom of it to the hole in the clarifier was watertight.
At that time, King said he waved to the workers in the clarifier to go for lunch.
King said while the workers were taking lunch, he went into the clarifier and looked into the hole and saw some debris and tools still inside.
He said he wasn't concerned, as he assumed those would get removed the following week.
King said it was after workers returned to the clarifier after lunch that he told Colin King there was no need to go back inside the hole.
"We're talking about the test that's going on. How we're just going to work on the clarifier floor, clean the rest of that up for the afternoon, and there's no need to go down into the hole in the bottom."
King said he didn't see Henderson in the hole at that time, but didn't testify as to whether he also directly told Henderson not to go back in the hole.
King said he climbed out of the clarifier and continued to assess the site, looking at things that might still need to be finished.
On security camera footage played in court, King can be seen minutes later scrambling to turn off the water to the manhole and scrambling down into the clarifier.
He said Eric Henderson, Michael Henderson's brother, was in the hole trying to pull him out.
King said he tried deflating the plug by opening the valve to let air out. He said that didn't work, so he gave a knife to Eric Henderson to try puncturing the plug, but that didn't work either.
A firefighter earlier testified there was about half an hour between the initial 911 call and Henderson's body being recovered from the hole.
King's trial is expected to resume Friday morning, with Crown prosecutors cross examining his testimony.