Secret witness could help injured worker

Earl Watson is stuck in a battle with the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Earl Watson is stuck in a battle with the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

The former welder was working on a gold claim outside Dawson City last summer when a pump broke and blasted chemical-ridden water in his face.

The blast left him partially blind in his right eye, but the compensation board doesn’t believe the injury happened at work.

There’s no work-site injury report from Watson’s first medical stop at the Dawson City Nursing Clinic.

Watson wants an end to mine operators who allow people to work alone with heavy machinery. A partner could have saved his life, had the accident been worse. And Watson would now have a witness to testify he is telling the truth.

And then, a phone call came.

A man responding to a News story on Watson published on January 29 said he saw the accident.

He was sitting in his truck with a woman “he shouldn’t have been with.”

After confirming details from Watson’s account and then some, the man said he won’t come forward because of the woman.

“Tell him I’m sorry,” he said.

That was the only communication from the secret witness for a month.

Then, last week, a five-page letter arrived at the News.

“I’ll explain,” says the anonymous letter.

“(The woman) works with the government and can’t be involved as it is illegal for her to be used or quoted in anyway,” it says.

“For that reason, I can’t use our names.

“I hope this helps with the problem that Watson has.”

On Tuesday, Watson got his first glimpse of the letter.

“This guy has got to come forward,” said Watson, flipping through the white, thin pages.

“What could she be in the government? A politician?” he said.

“She must have something to do with it if she can’t say something.”

After reading the letter in full, Watson can’t find anything wrong with the witness’s account.

“That’s what happened. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.

The witness says he was driving with the woman south of Dawson City, looking for a hill to take pictures from on May 25.

“We drove past a guy working on the edge of a tailings,” says the letter.

Watson was pumping out water from the gold claim that was seeping in from an adjacent tailings pond.

“He had a 245 hoe, a large loader and was pumping water up the hill to the next trail that we were travelling on,” the letter continues.

On the way back past the property,

the witness says he could hear that the pump wasn’t on.

Watson, in his account of events, says that the pump clogged and he began furiously repairing it before it began to heat up. The pump was filled with heavily-pressured water pushing from inside the hose.

“I stopped to watch to see what was going on, I noticed a man working on the pump, I was there for approximately 10 minutes when there was spray of water coming out of the top of the pump,” says the letter.

“It knocked down the guy that was working on the pump and his hard hat when flying,” it says.

Watson never found his hard hat.

“The man got out of the muddy water that was spraying about 50 to 60 feet and he came up to his pick up and grabbed a bottle of water and poured it into his eyes and face,” says the letter.

Watson’s account matches everything to a tee.

“It seemed everything was OK so we drove on,” the witness writes. “This was about 5:30 p.m.”

“If I knew that the mud was hot and had burnt him, I would have stuck around to see if he was OK.”

“I know now that he was injured for that. I’m really sorry.”

Watson remembers feeling alright just after the accident. It was later that night that the pain started. He could barely drive to Dawson’s nursing clinic and had to be on pain killers over the next several days while he was transported to Whitehorse and then to Vancouver for eye surgery.

Doctors’ reports from the surgeries and evaluations say that Watson suffered from a corneal abrasion that has partially blinded his right eye. But the first doctor in Dawson never wrote a work site injury report.

“If this guy would come forward, it would definitely turn it around,” said Watson.

The board, which doesn’t comment on individual cases, still hasn’t granted Watson any compensation for his injury.

He worked as a welder and a mechanic for 20 years, but he can’t do work like that anymore. Since the injury, he’s worked on a few road projects here and there, but it’s far from the life he had before.

“I wonder why he didn’t come down,” said Watson, who remembers seeing a few cars drive by the old gold claim.

“He was definitely in the right place,” he said.

The man that Watson was working for, Gary Crawford, has since left town. He can’t be reached by phone and no one knows his whereabouts, said Watson.

Now, the only person who can help Watson won’t tell the board he was a witness.

“Please give this account to the people that are involved with this injustice,” says the witness. “And apologize to Mr. Watson. Thanks.”

But Watson, who lives in Whitehorse, could use a little more than an apology.

“Why wouldn’t he come forward?” he said.

“I don’t understand why he can’t come forward.”

Contact James Munson at