Former supervisor says he didn't let teen know about test that proved fatal

Jason King has pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence in connection to the death of 18-year-old on a job site. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Jason King has pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence in connection to the death of 18-year-old on a job site. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains graphic content some readers may find disturbing.

A former construction supervisor on trial for criminal negligence testified Friday that he never told a worker about plans to perform the test at a Fredericton job site that ultimately led to his death.

Jason King said he assumed another worker had told Michael Henderson that water would be pouring into a manhole for close to an hour as part of a test to determine whether a pipe was water-tight.

King's trial before a judge alone on a charge of criminal negligence causing death has heard that Henderson was working in the bottom of a hole where a plug had been installed to hold back that water.

The plug gave out, trapping him inside the hole as water rose above his head, drowning him.

King testified that Colin King, his cousin, was working alongside Henderson that day.

King said he told Colin King about the test he was carrying out and assumed he'd warn Henderson about it.

"[Henderson] could have came right back up as soon as Colin went down to inform him what was going on," said King.

Henderson died while working for Springhill Construction Ltd. on a project the company was undertaking at Fredericton's sewage treatment plant on Aug. 16, 2018.

King was employed by Springhill Construction and was the supervisor for the project at the time.

The work involved constructing 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.

McAdam's Funeral Home
McAdam's Funeral Home

On the morning of Aug. 16, Henderson was 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.

Friday's proceedings began with Crown prosecutor Christopher Lavigne questioning King on his understanding of the role he had as supervisor for overseeing safety and identifying hazards on the job site.

King says he's 'not a reader'

King said there were safety manuals provided by Springhill Construction at his office on the job site, but that he hadn't gone through them.

"I'm not a reader," said King, when asked about any such documents he read since his promotion to supervisor in 2016.

Lavigne also questioned King about whether Henderson was fully aware of the risks involved in working within a "confined space."

The court earlier heard that Henderson had been cleaning debris out of the bottom of the hole that morning, and that he helped install a plug inside a pipe in that hole for the purpose of stopping ground water from trickling in.

Shortly before noon, however, King began pouring water into an adjacent manhole connected to that pipe because he felt it was an "opportune time" to conduct the test he'd discussed in the weeks prior.

Henderson went for lunch around noon and resumed working inside the hole about half an hour later, shortly after which the plug slid out of place.

No chance for Henderson to refuse task, says Crown

When asked Friday morning, King said he understood that an employee has the right to refuse doing a task if they feel that work is unsafe.

Lavigne later questioned whether Henderson had the necessary information to make that choice.

"As we discussed this morning, a right to refuse is meaningless if the person doesn't understand the risk, and that's exactly the position you put [Henderson] in that day," Lavigne said.

"I disagree," King replied.

New Brunswick Court of King's Bench
New Brunswick Court of King's Bench

King was the final witness to testify at the trial being heard by Court of King's Bench Justice Thomas Christie.

The trial earlier heard from workers who were on the site that day, as well as first responders who showed up after 911 was called.

The Crown and defence counsel are scheduled to return to the Burton courthouse for closing arguments next Tuesday.

Christie said he's hoping to deliver his verdict by May 12.