ONOWAY, Alberta—Ten months after a truck tire explosion tragically cut short the life of Dwight Peel only two days after his 17th birthday, the tire dealership where he worked part-time has been charged with four counts of violating standards of Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act. Investigators with Alberta Labour's Occupational Health & Safety unit sifted through reams of evidence—including an exhaustive examination and history of the truck tire and rim—while piecing together their anatomy of a routine tire repair gone wrong.
Last November, following a five-month probe, they issued a report that found W2 Tire & Auto Repair Ltd. in Onoway had failed to adequately inspect the tire and one-piece rim, failed to follow the tire manufacturer's specifications, failed to ensure that a known hazard was brought to the worker's attention, and failed to protect the health and safety of Dwight or provide him with adequate training.
On April 5, Maurice Boissonnault, owner of Edmonton, Alberta-based Grande Tire Inc., took over operation of W2 Tire after purchasing its equipment—but no receivables—from owners Leanne and Gary Wenckowski. He has since renamed the dealership Con-Tec Tire & Auto Ltd., and hopes to eventually buy the building.
However, as officers of their former business, the Wenckowskis are to appear May 12 in a provincial court in Stony Plain, west of Edmonton. W2 Tire—the corporation—faces a maximum fine, for a first offense, of $150,000 (Canadian) and/or six months in jail.
Kathy S. Telfer, public affairs officer with Alberta Labour, told Tire Business the initial court date is for the reading of the charges. A follow-up court date then will be set for pleas to be entered.
Although the decision to levy any penalties is up to a judge, Ms. Telfer said most fines for first-time offenses are around $10,000 (Canadian), and no one has ever pulled jail time for a first offense.
The Wenckowskis did not return phone calls from Tire Business.
Meanwhile, Dwight's picture, jersey and gold medal are on display in a trophy case in the Onoway Arena—hollow reminders of the athlete, scholar and all-around nice kid who once skated there with the Onoway Eagles hockey team. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral last summer.
The accident occurred June 27, 1998—hours before Dwight was to attend the high school prom. As he worked in W2's shop, the owner/ operator of a gravel truck drove in and asked if Dwight could fix the left inside rear tire, which had blown off its wheel, probably from hitting a big rock, he speculated.
Dwight jacked up the truck, removed the tire and wheel and, according to the Alberta Labour investigators, used a tire bar to put the tire back onto the wheel. He then filled the tire with air, but it would not seat on the wheel.
He used a ``bead blaster'' to seat the tire, then leaned it against another vehicle and continued to inflate the tire, checking its pressure several times. When it held more than 50 pounds of air, the tire and wheel separated, hitting Dwight in the head and flinging him towards a bay door.
The Onoway Rescue Team and Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called, but it was too late for the youth, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
In their summary, the investigators concluded that several factors contributed to his death:
Even before the explosion, ``the open side of the aluminum wheel was deformed so significantly at the flange and bead seat area that the tire was unable to be properly supported.
``The inner tire bead separated from the wheel flange during pressurizing and caused the wheel to project laterally with significant force.''
The condition of the tire—a Michelin X2A, size 11R22.5, that had been retreaded three times—and the Alcoa aluminum wheel ``was not examined according to the manufacturer's specifications prior to mounting and pressurization.
``The tire was not restrained during the pressurizing process.
``The worker was not adequately trained,'' nor did he have sufficient knowledge and experience in servicing large-diameter truck tires.
However, prior to issuing their report, Alberta Labour ordered W2 Tire to adopt the following corrective measures:
Establish and implement safe work procedures for tire repairing.
Provide training for workers with regard to safe handling and repairing of tires.
Follow manufacturers' guidelines on proper servicing of tires and wheels.
As the first anniversary of Dwight's death approaches, his mother, Manuela Peel, 38, still wonders why her son had to die and why W2 was not already following those safety recommendations.
Adopting them now, she said, is simply ``too little too late.''
The still-grieving mother believes the government will never succeed in changing companies' practices with such minor penalties.
``A child is dead and (W2 Tire is) responsible for this, and they get a slap on the wrist.
``There will still be companies that continue to do things as they always have, and hope this kind of thing never happens to them.
``I can't believe profits would have gone before safety,'' she added.
She said the tire service industry had ``better open its eyes—it's wrong that this kind of thing can happen.''
The Peels' attorney, Richard S. Rennick, with the Edmonton firm Rennick & DiPinto, said he is reviewing information to determine if the family has any legal recourse.
However, according to Canadian law, only Worker's Compensation can represent Dwight's estate and make a claim for redress. Mr. Rennick is exploring other avenues for the Peels to possibly receive some type of restitution.
Any money is scant compensation for their loss, Mrs. Peel said.
Since Dwight's death, the family has lived a ``constant nightmare.'' The Peels' middle son, Craig, 15, has been receiving ``excellent'' counseling at his school, she said.
But she worries about Dwight's 9-year-old brother, Kevin. ``He's taking it very hard. His role model is gone, and he's really lost.''