Supervisor charged after worker's 2018 death at Dartmouth construction site

The stepmother of a man who died after falling from the roof of a Dartmouth, N.S., construction site in 2018 says after waiting 20 months for answers, she's now torn to learn his supervisor at the worksite is facing charges.

Jeff Scott Gooch, 37, was arrested last Saturday and is charged with criminal negligence causing death, Halifax police said Wednesday.

Brandon Alcorn died on March 13, 2018, after falling from the roof of the Kent Building Supplies that was under construction on Cutler Drive. The 22-year-old's stepmother said she's relieved she might finally learn the circumstances of his fall that windy winter morning and that someone could be held accountable.

"I hope he doesn't die in vain. I hope something comes of all of this ... Now that there's charges and jail time possible, maybe now people [on worksites] will actually take notice," Janice Way said.

But her heart also goes out to the family of Gooch, who could be facing jail time if convicted. Gooch used to pick Alcorn up and drive him to work.

"It's not a win for anybody, I don't think," said Way. "Jeff's own words at the hospital [were] he considered Brandon like a little brother."

No fall protection gear

Alcorn, who grew up in Porters Lake, N.S., was working as a labourer at the Dartmouth site for Insulated Panel Structures, Inc., a Waterdown, Ont., company. President Cameron Smith said the company "remains sympathetic" to Alcorn's family and friends, but he declined to comment as the case is now before the courts.

Way said Alcorn had recently moved back from Newfoundland and had only worked for the company for a couple of months.

Records obtained by CBC News from the Nova Scotia Department of Labour through a freedom-of-information request show inspectors found that fall protection equipment was not being used at the time of Alcorn's death.

Const. John MacLeod said police took the time they needed to conduct a thorough investigation and bring a strong case to court.

Submitted by Janice Way
Submitted by Janice Way

MacLeod said Gooch was not charged under the so-called Westray Law, a Criminal Code amendment aimed at making it easier to hold employers accountable for deaths or injuries in the workplace. The bill was introduced after the 1992 Westray mine disaster in Plymouth, N.S., that killed 26 miners.

"We look at all factors in relation to the investigation. We also do consult with the Crown to make sure that we're laying the most appropriate charges in this case," said MacLeod.

Over the past 20 months, Way kept in frequent contact with officials from the Labour Department and then a detective who took over the case.

"Maybe I was a hassle to them, but I kept at it. I wanted to know there were charges in the case," she said Wednesday evening.

However, Way still doesn't know exactly what happened to Alcorn, beyond that he suffered three traumatic brain injuries from a four-metre fall.

Marina von Stackelberg/CBC
Marina von Stackelberg/CBC

The day Alcorn died, Way said he slept in and Gooch made his way to work on his own. Alcorn's girlfriend dropped him off at the worksite and it's his stepmother's understanding that he was only at work 20 minutes when he fell from the building's roof. She said she's been tormented by thoughts about what may have happened during those final minutes.

"I have so many things running through my head of the circumstances and what it could have been," she said. "It was the windiest day of the year. Other places shut down. Was it that? Did he slip? Did he get in a fight?"

'That smile would light up a room'

Way's voices breaks and she recalls getting surprise calls in the middle of the night from her stepson. He was a jokester who loved to FaceTime people when he was up late, even if they weren't.

"I miss that so much," she said. "He was so fun and loveable. That smile — every picture that you see, that smile would light up a room."

Two weeks prior to Alcorn's fall, he'd moved into a new apartment with his girlfriend. He hoped to join the military.

"Everything was going great," Way said. "Everybody loved Brandon. He was the type of person who made sure nobody was left out of a crowd, everybody was involved."

Submitted by Janice Way
Submitted by Janice Way

Following Alcorn's death, a Labour Department inspector found there was no evidence the company had a written fall-protection safe-work procedure.

On March 14, 2018, the department ordered Insulated Panel Structures ensure at least one of the following was used: a guardrail, temporary flooring, a personnel safety net, a travel restraint system or a fall-arrest system.

The Labour Department issued a stop-work order on a section of the construction site until that happened. An inspector also ordered the company to "establish a written fall-protection safe-work procedure" for anytime fall protection gear is required.

MacLeod said he does not anticipate that any more charges will be laid in connection with Alcorn's death.

Gooch is scheduled to appear in Halifax provincial court on Feb. 25, 2020.