October 2, 2017 8:53 am
Updated: October 3, 2017 9:46 am

1st witnesses testify in trial of 3 men in Lac-Mégantic train disaster

WATCH: The trial for three men accused of 47 counts each of criminal negligence in connection with the train explosion in Lac-Mégantic four years began in Sherbrooke on Monday. As Global’s Felicia Parrillo reports, the crown is saying the explosion could have been avoided had the workers done their jobs properly.


The Crown is calling its first witnesses in the trial of three men in the Lac-Mégantic train derailment that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the small Quebec town on July 6, 2013.

The trial opened Monday morning.

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Prosecutors asked the first witness, Steven Montambeault, then-head of the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) crime scene investigators, to describe the scene in an aerial video he took to analyze the area.

WATCH BELOW: Lac-Mégantic defence lawyer ‘optimistic’ on Day 1 of trial 

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They then reviewed photos with second witness, Jacques Lafrance, a crime scene technician with Quebec’s provincial police.

READ MORE: Are the right people on trial for Lac-Mégantic train disaster?

“We’re very optimistic, and [train engineer Tom Harding], as you can understand, is very anxious,” defence lawyer Thomas Walsh told journalists.

“The process has been difficult, what’s been even more difficult is Mr. Harding has realized he’s partly responsible for what happened. He has to live with that.”

The incident happened at 1:15 a.m. when a runaway train with 72 oil tankers — owned and operated by the now bankrupt railway company Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. (MMA) — barrelled into the town at over 100 km/h.

Dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed and about 2,000 residents were evacuated.

WATCH BELOW: Looking back at the train derailment

The bilingual trial is taking place in Sherbrooke, Que., about an hour and a half away from Lac-Mégantic.

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Along with Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations, Jean Demaitre, are each facing 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death.

“Never did he [Demaitre] ensure that a qualified employee was sent on the scene to check that the train parked on the slope was safe,” Crown prosecutor Véronique Beauchamps said in her opening statement.

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The Crown is expected to call 36 witnesses.

The three men have pleaded not guilty.

The jury of 10 men and four women were selected from about 300 candidates.

“You are the judges of the facts and I am the judge of the law,” explained Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas Monday, adding that the jury will be sequestered during deliberations.

Former Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. employees Tom Harding, right, Jean Demaitre, centre, and Richard Labrie are escorted by police to appear in court in Lac-Megantic, Que., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The trial for the three men is set to begin on Monday in Sherbrooke.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Throughout the trial, the Crown is expected to argue that the employees working that night caused the train derailment and explosion as only seven handbrakes were applied when it should have been around 20.

READ MORE: Two years later: rebuilding after the Lac-Mégantic train derailment

The locomotive, and subsequently the airbrakes, were then shut down after a small fire on the train, causing the air to bleed off and the train to start sliding.

READ MORE: Settlement reached in Lac-Mégantic lawsuit to compensate victims

“The type of disaster that happened here was a type of disaster that never happened anywhere before,” Marie-Claude Arguin, the town’s director general, told Global News last week.

READ MORE: Lax safety measures, poor training led to fatal Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

A conviction on criminal negligence causing death can carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The trial is expected to last until Dec. 21.


© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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