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‘We still hurt’: Community marks grim anniversary in downtown Kelowna

Click to play video: 'Families of the men killed in a crane collapse speak on the first anniversary of the catastrophic incident' Families of the men killed in a crane collapse speak on the first anniversary of the catastrophic incident
Families of the men killed in a crane collapse speak on the first anniversary of the catastrophic incident – Jul 12, 2022

At 10:55 Tuesday morning, a crane at a downtown Kelowna construction site blasted its horn as hundreds of people held a moment of silence.

The gesture marked the exact time a year earlier when a crane collapsed at the Brooklyn construction site on the corner of St. Paul Street and Bernard Avenue.

The crane was being dismantled when it came crashing down. The catastrophic incident on July 12, 2021 killed five people.

Read more: 2 new cranes to be erected at site of deadly Kelowna crane collapse

A large crowd gathered to pay tribute to the men killed at a memorial organized by the  North Okanagan Labour Council on Tuesday.

“We are all still very much grieving,” said a very emotional Chris Vilness, who lost his son Cailen Vilness that day.

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Brothers Eric and Patrick Stemmer, Jared Zook and Brad Zawislack also died. Zawislack was working in an adjacent office building at the time.

Read more: Former Manitoban killed in Kelowna, B.C. crane collapse

“It’s horrible. It’s like a nightmare,” said Danielle Pritchett, Cailen’s mom. “It’s a beautiful thing that the community has come out and you know the North Okanagan Labour Council has taken the initiative to do this for us and we appreciate that, but it’s a horrifying day for our family. It’s a very difficult day.”

Those attending the one-year memorial were encouraged to sign a book of condolences.

Click to play video: 'Grieving Kelowna mother calls for more workplace safety after her son lost his life while working at a construction site' Grieving Kelowna mother calls for more workplace safety after her son lost his life while working at a construction site
Grieving Kelowna mother calls for more workplace safety after her son lost his life while working at a construction site – Apr 28, 2022

Many of those attending the event had some kind of connection to either the people that died or the construction.

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Jose Diaz worked with the Stemmer brothers for half a year and struggled to contain his emotions on what he agreed was an extremely difficult day.

“I have no words. Sorry,” he said.

Tracy Graf and her daughter Shayla also attended the event. Tracy’s husband Clint, Shayla’s dad, worked on the first tower and passed away two months after the tragic crash. Even though his death was unrelated to the crane accident, they came to honour him and the fives lives lost.

“It’s very hard,” said a very emotional Tracy.

Dozens of construction workers, many wearing their high-visibility vests, also attended the memorial. They were urged by the grieving families to always make safety a top priority.

“Take the time to make the right decision – take the time to tie off; take the time to put the hard hat on; take the time to put your safety glasses on … no matter what, no matter what,” said Pritchett.

It was a message shared in the hope that no one else has to experience the pain they continue to endure.

Read more: Videos show construction worker dangling from crane in Toronto

“To say that we have recovered would be a lie. We still hurt. The tears still flow frequently because we miss our boy,” said Steven Zook, Jared’s dad. “The anger still comes because this should never have happened, the frustration is still there because we have yet to get any answers.”

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Multiple investigations are still underway into the workplace incident described as one of the worst in B.C.’s history.

WorkSafeBC, RCMP and the B.C. Coroners Service are all conducting concurrent and independent investigations, but to this day none have been completed.

“It’s horrifying to wait for a year to even find out what caused it, what happened, what happened to his physical body,” Pritchett told Global News. “We know nothing, so yeah from a personal level that will bring closure to me as his mom.”

WorkSafe BC said the investigation is a complex one.

“It is extremely complex,” said Jessica Berglund, director of occupational health and safety investigations with WorkSafeBC. “It’s also, after the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, often considered to be the second largest workplace accident in B.C. history with the number of workers who were killed. And there are a lot of witnesses to interview and, as you can imagine, a lot of mechanical equipment to inspect and test and go through.”

Berglund said it’s hoped the WorkSafeBC investigation will be completed in the coming months.

“We’re very close to being completed,” she said. “We’re currently waiting for some final pieces of evidence that we cannot conclude our report or investigation without having those pieces of evidence. So that is what we’re waiting for.”

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The families are also still hoping for a permanent memorial at the construction site that will forever commemorate the tragedy and honour the lives lost.

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Kelowna crane collapse: Evacuation order lifted, residents return home – Jul 22, 2021

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