Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 5, 2013

‘He was just very safety-conscious at all times’

One of the two men accused in the trial around the death of Whitehorse tire shop technician Dennis Chabot took the witness stand Wednesday for an emotional recounting of events in territorial court.

By Christopher Reynolds on December 5, 2013 at 4:35 pm

One of the two men accused in the trial around the death of Whitehorse tire shop technician Dennis Chabot took the witness stand Wednesday for an emotional recounting of events in territorial court.

Paul Bubiak, co-owner of Integra Tire, told the court about Chabot’s exemplary workplace behaviour and the moments leading up to the accident, which saw the 34-year-old crushed under a semi truck while servicing it on Nov. 15, 2011.

“Dennis was for sure the best of the best, eager — really liked working, which today is rare,” Bubiak said. “You can’t really get much more knowledgeable.

“He was the safest by far. He was just very safety-conscious at all times.”

The temperature was close to -20 C on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011. It was Chabot’s day off.

He forgot, and came into the shop shortly after 7 a.m.

“He said, ‘Can I work?’” Fatefully, Bubiak agreed.

Chabot began studding tires, stacked in a corner of the shop. The studding machine seemed to be malfunctioning, so Chabot looked for something else to work on.

“I had noticed a truck at the back door there, kind of a unique colour,” Bubiak said, referring to a green Kenworth semi parked in the yard.

Its tires needed siping — cutting grooves in the rubber tread blocks to improve traction. Chabot asked him about it and got down to work.

“Dennis loved to work on the trucks,” Bubiak said. “He was one of the most competent people we had for that job.”

Chabot had taken solo service calls “hundreds of miles” from Whitehorse and had years of experience working unsupervised on tractors, Bubiak said.

“He loved service calls to Teslin or to rescue a car off the road from wherever.”

The testimony served in part to rebuff some of the charges against him and his company related to inadequate training and supervision.

After several hours of siping, Chabot rolled the wheels back outside and bolted them back onto the tractor, lowered the truck and pulled out the jacks at around 3 p.m.

“‘Done the job, just got to torque that side,’” Bubiak recalled him saying.

“‘I said, ‘Do you want me to start it for you?’ He said, ‘That’d be great.’”

Technicians do not usually start the vehicles they work on, partly because their clothes are often too dirty to wear inside a client’s cab, Bubiak explained.

Bubiak climbed into the diesel truck, made sure the maxi brakes were on, put the key in the ignition and started it up.

“As I walked inside (the shop), I remember Dennis was on the passenger side of the truck, torquing the wheels.”

Bubiak saw no chocks on the wheels — a standard safeguard against vehicle movement that, in an auto garage, alerts people to ongoing work.

“The only thing I saw outside was him and the torque wrench.”

Inside the sales office, Bubiak phoned Frank Taylor, a supervisor at North 60 Petro — the other individual and company charged in the case — and told him the siping was done and the truck was ready for pickup.

Bubiak returned to the shop and told Chabot, who “appeared to be just cleaning up,” that a North 60 employee was on his way.

In court, Integra Tire security footage showed the shop and sales office goings-on minutes before the fatal accident as the seconds ticked down on a life.

At 3:18 p.m., Chabot is visible at the back of the shop dressed in a reflective vest and headgear. He picks up his gloves and heads toward the shop door leading out to the yard.

Two minutes later, he would be dead.

Offscreen, North 60 employee Allan Lelievre had put the truck in drive without conducting a “walk-around” check of the vehicle. It ran over Chabot at 3:20 p.m.

Almost immediately, Lelievre saw Chabot lying in the yard as he looked through a rearview mirror.

Footage shows him rushing into the sales office. “He seemed visibly upset. He said, ‘I think I just ran somebody over,’” Bubiak recalled.

The two ran out of the sales office to the yard, where Chabot was lying about five metres from the shop. Two men were beside him, one holding his hand.

“Al (Lelievre) fell apart. He was in complete hysterics. He was hitting the ground,” Bubiak said.

“I grabbed him, basically, in a bear hug. He was screaming. I turned him around so he wasn’t looking at him, yelled to the guys, ‘How is he, how is he?’”

Bubiak paused on the stand, becoming choked up.

Chabot was lying in a pool of blood. He did not respond to his co-workers, nor to paramedics’ attempts to revive him five minutes later.

Bubiak said the hours following the incident are hazy, but that he shut down the shop and called clients to inform them.

A counsellor spoke to all employees soon afterward. Attendance at the session was mandatory, Bubika said.

A memorial for Dennis Chabot now hangs in the sales office.

“I speak to all the new hires so they know who he was, what happened,” Bubiak said, holding back tears.

Prior to the incident, Bubiak had never seen drivers carry out the “23-point inspection” of their vehicle at the shop. Sometimes they did the walk-around, he said.

Both are required in most situations, according to Tire Industry Association standards.

Cal Murdoch, Bubiak’s partner at Integra Tire, told the court earlier that he oversaw training courses and helped develop procedures.

He said there was no formal training nor policy to ensure a walk-around or inspection after servicing: “It was an informal thing. Before the job was finished, you take a minute to clean up tools.”

“Housekeeping” has “certainly changed since the accident,” Bubiak said.

Employees put away jacks and other tools every time they’re done a job, even if that means digging them out again 15 minutes later. This way, anyone in the shop can tell whether work on a vehicle is ongoing or complete.

He said the bar on “lockout” and “tagout” procedures had also been raised.

Rather than having keys remain in commercial vehicles as work goes on, “we take the keys out of all the trucks.”

One of the four charges against Bubiak is that he failed to immobilize the truck and control it when it was shut down for maintenance work.

Integra Tire is facing two additional charges related to its safety process: failing to develop safe, effective lockout procedures and failing to explain those procedures verbally and in writing.

Integra Tire employees now clamp a large tag on the door handle of each truck. When drivers return to pick up their trucks, a sales rep goes to the vehicle with him.

The strict new protocol has cost them business. “A lot of the older truck drivers said, ‘I’m not shutting my truck down, it’s 30 below,’” Bubiak said. “We don’t get their business.”

Bubiak, Taylor, Integra Tire and North 60 Petro are facing 14 charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

No criminal charges have been laid.

Taylor and Bubiak would not face jail time if convicted of any charges.

The three-week trial is expected to conclude tomorrow.

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