Sunrise propane explosion trial enters final phase

Toronto-Sun

Sunrise propane explosion trial enters final phase

Toronto Sun, February 14, 2012

Ian Robertson, The Toronto Sun

TORONTO – Emotions 3 1/2 years after Toronto’s worst propane disaster still ran high for area residents and survivors during the trial of a now-defunct fuel firm and two co-owners.

Some witnesses wept recalling the Aug. 10, 2008 blast that destroyed Sunrise Energy’s facility, lit the pre-dawn sky like a war zone, killed an employee, left a firefighter dead from heart failure, wrecked homes and prompted 12,000 residents to evacuate within a 1.6-kilometre radius.

Blame is hotly debated, with accusations of safety rules disobeyed, faulty government watchdogging, misdated files, and many people bitter about the devastation and disruption to their lives.

A $300-million class action pending against Sunrise, its owners and associated companies is one of several lawsuits whose future proceedings are relying on the outcome of the Ontario Court of Justice trial.

The trial, which started Jan. 30, is in its final phase.

When environment ministry prosecutor Justin Jacob announced Tuesday that Crown evidence had concluded, defence lawyer Leo Adler told Judge Leslie Chapin he will reveal his decision to call “zero to three” witnesses Wednesday.

Sunrise and co-owners Shay “Sean” Ben-Moshe and Valery Belahov pleaded not guilty to environment and labour ministry charges, including accusations of disobeying a 2006 order to cease truck-to-truck propane transfers and ignoring a provincial officer’s post-explosion order to clean up the residential area.

While questioning witnesses, Adler said Sunrise was safety-conscious, a victim of faulty new equipment plus vague or mis-stated government agency orders.

During Adler’s cross-examination, TSSA inspector Don Heyworth repeatedly denied ever giving permission for the banned propane transfers to continue.

An Ontario Fire Marshal’s investigation determined the explosion occurred during a truck-to-truck transfer, court heard.

Ross Keys, the engineer Sunrise hired to design a new 30,000-gallon propane tank installation, testified the TSSA became a tougher overseer of the industry after the fatal explosion.

Keys told the court that the non-profit, self-financed provincial administrative agency is suing him.

Civil court files show Keys is one of several defendants in a TSSA lawsuit that claims his company provided designs and consultation for a new 30,000 propane storage tank on the Sunrise site, allegedly knowing the firm lacked proper permission.

Outside court following the trial’s first day, Adler told reporters he will ask the judge “to acquit” his clients, insisting “there was nothing that Sunrise did that was wrong.”

Final arguments may be postponed until June, officials predicted last month.