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Yukon mining company pleads guilty to two of eight charges in apprentice death

By Justine Davidson, Whitehorse Star
| www.cos-mag.com

WHITEHORSE — A Yukon mining company pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of breaching safety regulations in connection with the death of a young apprentice mechanic nearly two years ago.

The charges against Procon Mining and Tunnelling were laid almost a year after Paul Wentzell, 20, was run over and killed by an unoccupied vehicle.

An incident report prepared by the territory's workers' compensation board describes the events of Oct. 19, 2009.

Wentzell drove a Toyota Landcruiser into the underground workings of Yukon Zinc's Wolverine Mine to deliver a piece of equipment to another worker.

Part way down the steep ramp, he came upon another vehicle blocking his way. He stopped his truck, put it into neutral, applied the emergency brake and walked down the ramp toward the other vehicle.

But the emergency brake did not hold, and the vehicle rolled down the slope, striking Wentzell from behind. It came to a stop when it collided with the second vehicle.

The report says Wentzell was still able to walk and talk after being hit, but was transported to Whitehorse General Hospital as a precaution.

He arrived at the hospital at 12:20 p.m. and died of internal injuries 48 minutes later.

Wentzell was born in Newfoundland and most recently lived in Alberta.

A year after the young man's death, the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board filed eight charges against Procon, all relating to the unsafe operation of a vehicle.

No charges were laid against Yukon Zinc, the owner of the mine where Wentzell was working as a Procon employee.

Lawyer David Sutherland pleaded guilty on behalf of the tunnelling company. The Crown prosecutor dropped the remaining six charges.

A date for the sentencing hearing will be set on Sept. 16.

Breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act carry a fine of up to $150,000 for the first offence, and up to $300,000 for subsequent offences.

Procon and Yukon Zinc are also facing charges in the death of mechanic William Fisher at the Wolverine Mine in April 2010.

Fisher, a 23-year-old B.C. man, died when a section of tunnel wall collapsed, crushing and burying him against a piece of equipment he was servicing.

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