The parents of Eric Leighton, who was killed in a high school explosion, say they finally have closure at the end of a coroner's inquest in Ottawa today. The jury came out with 22 recommendations aimed at preventing another death like the one in that shop class at Mother Teresa High School three years ago.
After hearing the recommendations, Pat and Sheri Leighton spoke to reporters about the inquest findings and about their son.
“He was my son that I miss, miss, miss him tremendously,” said a teary-eyed Sheri Leighton.
18-year-old Eric was their happy-go-lucky son who was lost to them in what the jury at a coroner's inquest is calling an accident.
It was the morning of May 26, 2011 when a powerful explosion rocked Mother Teresa High school, blowing a hole in the ceiling in the technology class. Moments earlier, Eric and another student were cutting into a closed oil drum to make an improvised BBQ. Eric had made the first cut using a grinder. The spark from that grinder ignited the vapors inside the closed 55-gallon peppermint oil barrel that had previously been cleaned with a highly volatile de-greaser.
Pat and Sheri Leighton had so many questions following the death of their son. Now, almost a full three years after it happened, a coroner's inquest has given them the answers.
“It feels like a bit of a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” says Pat Leighton, “I think we spoke well for Eric, the jury spoke for Eric and he'd be proud of us.”
The five-member jury came back with 22 recommendations for school boards, principals, teachers and government ministries.
Among them, that school boards maintain a list of approved student projects for tech classes. And that new projects like the BBQ be assessed to make sure they're safe. The jury also suggested Safety Guidelines be established by all school boards for High School Technological classes and that these guidelines be mandatory reading for school staff. The jury also recommended Safety Passports for tools and equipment that would need to be obtained by a student before he or she had access to a tool. It suggested consideration be given to not allowing any hot work on closed containers in a high school tech shop. And the jury suggested at leats one board-wide working day or professional development day be set aside every year to look at safety in tech classes.
"For every inquest we do,” said Dr. Louise McNaughton-Filion, who oversaw the coroner’s inquest, “we're thinking every day about the person who passed away and every day about what we can do to prevent from happening again.”
The Catholic school board says it has implemented most of these recommendations already and hopes other boards will as well.
“As far as the Catholic School Board,” says Allan O’Brien, the lawyer for the school board and for the tech teacher, Scott Day, “most of them have already been implemented. I can't speak for other boards except to say they make sense.”
The board said in a statement that while nothing will bring Eric back “we are committed to the safety of our students and will work each and every day going forward to ensure that what happened to Eric never happens again.”
The Board is also hoping Scott Day will return to the classroom. He hasn't taught since the explosion that killed his student, Eric Leighton.
Julian Hanlon is the Director of Education for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, “My intent is to contact him next week and see if there's something we can do to get him back even on a part time basis and slowly integrate him back into the system.”
The jury’s twenty-two recommendations are just that; recommendations. There is no legal responsibility to implement them.
But the Leightons say if their son's voice could be heard one more time it would be to say thank you for trying to make sure this kind of tragedy never happens again.
With a report from Joanne Schnurr.