Alberta company still not talking, says bereaved Scotchtown mom

‘I want to know what happened to my son’

Published on January 27, 2017

Bernice Williams of Scotchtown stands near a collection of photographs of her and husband Michael’s late son, Dave Williams, who died Jan. 25, 2015, at age 30, as a result of sustaining serious injuries in an explosion at Nexen’s Long Lake Project in Fort McMurray on Jan. 15, 2015. Williams said Nexen officials refuse to give the family information on the explosion that killed their son.

©Sharon Montgomery-Dupe/Cape Breton Post

SCOTCHTOWN, N.S. — A year after a devastating explosion at Nexen’s Long Lake facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, that killed her son Dave, Bernice Williams says she still hasn’t received an explanation from the company.

I don’t want to get up, as I don’t want to face the day because I know what I have to face every day. You sit in a chair and you think and you think and you think. Bernice Williams

 “I want to know what happened to my son,” said the downcast mother. “I want to know everything.”

Bernice Williams said she has contacted Nexen constantly over the past year, flooking or answers about the accident, but the company simply tells her the information, “is private.”

She said she feels the company thinks that if they ignore her she will go away.

“I’ll never give up trying to find out what happened to my son,” she said. “I’m not going to go away.”

She said the pain of losing her is difficult enough, but not knowing what happened makes life unbearable. Some mornings, she said, she doesn’t even want to get out of bed.

“I don’t want to get up, as I don’t want to face the day because I know what I have to face every day. You sit in a chair and you think and you think and you think.”

Dave Williams, 30, a journeyman millwright who worked at the Nexen Long Lake Project for four years, was critically injured in the explosion at the facility on Jan. 15, 2016, and died 10 days later.

According to company officials, at the time of the accident Dave Williams and another worker, Drew Foster, 52, who also died in the explosion, were conducting maintenance in a building that's part of the upgrader's hydrocracker.

Bernice Williams said, since her son’s death, the company has been nothing but cold to the family.

“You think on the anniversary of his death they would have sent a card or called, but nothing. They don’t care.”

She said the company won’t even give her the phone number of the paramedic — part of Nexen’s own emergency response team — who found her son.

“I want to find out what my son was saying. The paramedics found him, were the last ones to hear my son talking — I should be entitled to talk to them. What’s the big secret?”

She said after the accident her son was in a semi coma in the burn unit at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton for 10 days, fighting for his life. He never woke up.

“I never got to talk to my son.”

To add to the family’s pain, she added, Nexen officials staged a press conference last summer that blamed her son and his dead co-worker for the explosion.

She said she has found out that her son wasn’t in the area where the actual explosion occurred, but at the door. The only worker who was actually there died at the scene. Regardless, she said, the company continues to blame two men who are no longer there to defend themselves.

“You’re not even done grieving and you hear they are being blamed for it. I want my son’s name cleared.”

She said she has been contacting Alberta Occupational Health and Safety as well, and they have talked to her and provided any information they could. She said it was OHS that informed her of her son’s last words.

“He said he was cold,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion. “He said ‘I don’t want to die.”

The Williams home is full of photos of their four sons — their other three sons are Archie, Michael and Duke — but there are numerous tributes to Dave, including a large photo display.

“I can’t find a photo where Dave wasn’t smiling, he was always happy, even as a baby and a kid,” she said while looking at the photos. “He loved life.”

A few months after her son’s death, Bernice ended up going to her son’s house in Calgary and bringing home all his belongings.

On Bernice’s couch, Dave’s cat Dexter was found having a nap, with two large cat jungle gyms her son had purchased for his beloved cat nearby.

In the backyard are two of Dave’s trucks and his boat.

Bernice said it does give her some peace having the things David loved and enjoyed close by.

“He worked so hard for everything he had.”

Calgary-based Nexen Energy ULC was acquired by China's state-owned CNOOC Ltd. more than two years ago.

Numerous calls to the company over the past few days have not yet been returned.

In a story in the Cape Breton Post on July 22, 2016, Brittany Price, manager of corporate communications for Nexen, said the company did hold a press conference and it wasn’t their intention at all to make it seem like they were placing blame on the Williams or Foster families, and as operators they take accountability for everything that happens on their site.

Price said the company has competed the initial stages of its investigation, and the initial findings were that the work that was being done at the time of the explosion was being performed outside of the scope of approved work activities.

Price declined to answer at the time why Dave Williams was working in a section of the facility that wasn’t his work area, saying that the investigation is ongoing.

Lauren Welsh, a spokesperson for Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, said OHS continues to investigate the Long Lake explosion. Welsh said at this point OHS has not determined the cause of the incident and will not comment on possible causes until the investigation is complete.

She said OHS has a statue of limitations of two years less a day to complete its investigation.

Welsh said as the employer, Nexen was required by law to complete its own investigation report, which the company did in July 2016. As part of any OHS fatality or serious incident investigation, OHS will gather all the information it can to determine the cause of the accident, then review the file to determine if it should be submitted to Alberta Justice for consideration for prosecution.

“In some cases, an employer can be charged for violating OHS legislation,” she said. “OHS can also issue orders for employers to bring their work sites into compliance with OHS legislation, such as an order to put certain procedures in place to improve the health and safety of a work site.”

She said OHS publishes its fatality investigation report when an investigation has wrapped up and any court proceedings, if the case has gone to court, have wrapped up. However, she said, it will be up to Nexen to decide if it will release its own report publicly.

Welsh confirmed her office does communicate with the Williams family.

“During investigations, an OHS representative stays in contact with the family and updates them on the investigation as necessary. In instances where cases result in criminal charges, the OHS rep also provides supports to the family during court proceedings.”



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