Inquest into Babine blast starts Monday

A coroner's inquest into the fatal Babine Forest Products explosion is set to begin Monday in Burns Lake and the sister of one of the two men killed in the blast is bracing herself for the emotional impact.

"I'm doing a lot of praying," Lucy Campbell said Friday. "It does open a lot of hurtful wounds, a lot of triggers from that night and our hearts are still heavy from that time."

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Campbell's brother, Carl Charlie, 42, and Robert Luggi, 45, died following the Jan. 20, 2012 dust-related blast that also injured 20 others as it leveled the sawmill located on the outskirts of the community of 2,000 residents about 225 kilometres west of Prince George.

Like many, Campbell prefers an inquiry to an inquest but hopes the proceeding will at least give her answers surrounding what happened and why.

"I'm very skeptical but I'm also very hopeful, I'm hopeful that something good does come out of it."

Critics have questioned the validity of an inquest because an inquest jury cannot assign blame, only determine the cause of death and make recommendations to prevent similar events in the future.

Three months after the explosion at Babine, a similar blast destroyed Lakeland Mills in Prince George, also killing two men - Glenn Roche, 46, and Alan Little, 43 - and injuring 22 others.

A four-and-a-half week inquest into that disaster wrapped up in May with a five-man jury making 33 recommendations and determining the cause of death to be accidental.

In all 54 witnesses were heard over the course of that inquest, from the widows of Roche and Little to Lakeland CEO Greg Stewart to WorkSafeBC inspectors and experts on dust-related explosions.

That same month, a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign was launched with a $50,000 goal to pay for an independent lawyer to represent the families of Charlie and Luggi, but as of Friday, only $2,345 had been raised.

The coroner's lawyer typically represents the victims, as well as the public in general, at an inquest and a request by the families to the provincial government for funding to hire their own lawyer was turned down by chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

The B.C. Coroners Service originally intended to hold a single inquest in Prince George for both explosions but eventually relented to pressure from victims' families and agreed to hold a separate inquest in Burns Lake.

After a reworking of forest licences in the region, a new smaller sawmill was constructed at the site and is now up and operating.

It is owned by Oregon-based Hampton Affiliates with the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation holding an 11-per-cent stake.

The Babine inquest is scheduled to last three weeks.

(Editor's Note: The Citizen's Mark Nielsen will be in Burns Lake for the first week of the inquest, filing stories daily for the newspaper and online. Brent Braaten will be in Burns Lake on Monday to photograph the key participants in the inquest. Samantha Wright Allen will also be in Burns Lake on Monday, catching up with the victims of Babine Forest Products and finding out how they are doing, two-and-a-half years after the blast. Watch for her stories in the newspaper and online later in the week.)

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