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Engineer charged in mall collapse

A discredited engineer who declared a northern Ontario mall structurally sound just weeks before its roof caved in killing two women was charged Friday in what police described as a "challenging investigation."

Ontario Provincial Police said 64-year-old Robert Wood faces two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in connection with the June 2012 collapse in Elliot Lake.

"This was a unique, complex and challenging investigation which took considerable time to process evidence and being precise in the application of criminal law," said Detective-Superintendent Dave Truax.

"Wood was an engineer who was involved in the inspections of the building."

Truax wouldn't say if charges against others were pending but emphasized that the criminal investigation was ongoing.

A judicial inquiry into the collapse at the Algo Centre Mall has heard the roof of the poorly designed structure leaked from the beginning, and decades of water and salt penetration caused severe rusting of its steel support structure.

The inquiry also heard that Wood declared the centre structurally sound just weeks before it collapsed.

In a 2011 conversation relayed to the inquest, Wood was cited telling a prospective buyer it would cost $1.5 million to fix the mall's roof and reportedly warned the structure had to be fixed or the roof would cave in.

However, Wood told the inquiry he could barely recall any such conversation.

The inquiry then heard that subsequently, in May 2012, Wood told the mall's owner that steel supports at the shopping centre showed surface rusting, but were otherwise "structurally sound.''

The assessment followed an inspection of the property in which Wood noted "no visual distress.''

Wood later admitted changing his final May 3, 2012, inspection report after he and his partner signed off on it.

The changes included removing photographs he had taken in a mall store showing yellow tarps strung up to collect water leaking from the roof and a corroded steel beam. He also removed a reference to "ongoing'' leakage.

The changes were made at the request of the mall owner, Wood told the inquiry, as the man was apparently unhappy the mall would look bad when he was trying to get refinancing for it.

Wood was stripped of his professional engineering licence in November 2011 after admitting to misconduct unrelated to the mall.

He continued to practise as a "graduate'' engineer and owner of M.R. Wright based out of Sault Ste, Marie, Ont. with restrictions on what he could do. His 40-year career ended shortly after the mall roof collapse.

Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and Lucie Aylwin, 37 were killed in the collapse. While an autopsy showed Perizzolo died quickly, Aylwin is believed to have lived longer.

The Canadian Press

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