Three Dawson City residents have been placed on probation in relation to the July 14, 2007, explosion of a makeshift “pipe cannon” at an outdoor party.
Andre Levesque, 25, James Gattie, 23, and Seamus Power, 23, have been charged with “criminal negligence causing bodily harm.”
A fourth participant, B.L., was under the age of 18 at the time of the incident and could not be named.
At a “victim/offender resolution conference” organized following the incident, members of the Dawson community determined the accused need not be legally charged, provided they complete a list of community related tasks — including drafting letters of apology to all those affected in the explosion, performing 80 hours of community service, donating $100 to charity and providing a “presentation to youth on explosives.”
While supportive of the recommendations, Judge Karen Ruddy deemed them “insufficient to meet the principles of sentencing.
“Circumstances are much less than what is normally seen for this charge,” said Ruddy’s report on the conditional probation sentence.
“However, it is necessary to impose a sentence to send a clear message to others that there are serious repercussions for youthful exploits where one does not stop to consider obvious potential dangers,” read the report.
In addition to probation, all three will be unable to own a gun for the next 10 years.
Levesque, some time before the incident, had helped his father move some mining equipment — including a quantity of gunpowder.
Without his father’s knowledge, Levesque took some of the gunpowder and later brought it to an outdoor party.
At the party, revelers filled bits of tinfoil with gunpowder and threw them into the fire as makeshift firecrackers. Soon, the four accused got the idea of building a cannon out of a one- to two-metre-long length of pipe and using it to shoot a rock across the Yukon river.
They filled the pipe with gunpowder and the rock, and then placed the end of the pipe in the fire, using a bike to prop the makeshift cannon at a 45-degree angle.
For a while, nothing happened.
Then, Power approached the pipe and poked it with a stick. The pipe immediately exploded, sending shrapnel flying in all directions.
The flying metal struck three people in the surrounding crowd. Power suffered two broken bones in his left leg.
B.L. was struck in the leg, requiring two surgeries with ongoing care required.
Lisa Perry, a cousin of B.L., was hit in the hand prompting 36 stitches and doubts that she would ever regain full use of her hand.
Witness reports included lurid descriptions such as a “chunk missing from (B.L.’s) leg” and a “hole in Perry’s hand.”
Luckily, Susan Alton, a doctor staying at a nearby campground, was able to quickly attend to the injured before an ambulance could arrive.
Alcohol and marijuana, in use before and during the party, was probably a factor in the incident.
Directly following the explosion, police at the Dawson health centre noted that Power was “highly intoxicated and laughing,” according to official court documents.
In written statements of involvement provided by Gattie and Levesque, both said that they did not blame the incident on their usage of alcohol or drugs.
“Is there anyone among us that has not done things in their youth which may have caused harm, or know someone who has done things that could have had the same, if not worse outcome from this event?” read an open letter to the Klondike Sun by the parents of Lisa Perry.
“It is our hope that we, as a community, can get past this terrible occurrence and get on with our lives as well as letting these boys (also part of the community) get on with theirs.”
“Legally, I can’t sit at the dinner table with my cousin at Christmas,” said Perry in a statement to the court.
“I know he didn’t intend for all this to happen. That night in July was definitely unfortunate, but it wasn’t a total tragedy.
“A lot of the people were changed by it, and I know it has all been for the better.”
The sentencing report notes that, having occurred in a tight-knit community, the incident has already had numerous repercussions for the four accused.
“The accused (suffered) a significant amount of public scrutiny, condemnation and notoriety as a result of both the actual facts and numerous factually correct errors,” said the report.
Although Levesque provided the gunpowder that caused the explosion, the report noted that Levesque filled his community duties “to their utmost.”
He wrote all his letters of apology within the allotted time, performed his community service with diligence, and even “intervened to stop some kids using spray cans inappropriately.”