Koebel Brothers to Plead Guilty in Ontario Water Disaster

Oct. 18, 2004

The two brothers charged in the tainted water tragedy four years ago in Walkerton, Ont., will not face a trial but will instead enter guilty pleas next month, officials confirmed Monday.

Sources told The Canadian Press that in return for pleading guilty to public endangerment, the Crown would not proceed on two other charges against Stan and Frank Koebel. A hearing to enter the brothers' pleas was set for Nov. 30 in an Owen Sound court Monday, but no details of the apparent plea agreement were released.

In exchange for the guilty pleas, the Crown would not proceed on two other charges against the Koebels, who ran the town's drinking water system at the time the disaster struck, sources familiar with the proposed resolution said.

Stan Koebel, 51, was manager and his brother was foreman of the public utilities commission in the midwestern Ontario town of 5,000 when the drinking water contamination in May 2000 sickened more than 2,000 people and killed seven.

During a judicial inquiry into the outbreak, the brothers admitted to falsifying well logs, mislabeling water samples, and allowing unchlorinated water to flow to the taps of unsuspecting town residents.

The E. coli contamination that struck the town came from cow manure on a nearby farm that found its way into a poorly maintained town well after heavy rains.

Crown prosecutor Dave Foulds offered few details about the resolution, saying it would be disrespectful to the court to do so.

"We worked very hard to understand what the issues were and what the evidence is, and then I think we've crafted a resolution that will be in the public interest," he said.

"I think it's not in the public interest to run a complex and difficult trial when there are positive alternatives to getting the case completed more expeditiously."

The Koebels are charged with public endangerment, along with breach of trust and uttering forged documents. The maximum sentences on conviction range from two to 10 years.

Under the proposed plea bargain, court would hear an agreed statement of facts, but there has been no agreement on the sentence, the sources said. It's expected the case will be heard and dealt with by early December.

Provincial police charged the brothers in April 2003 after an intensive three-year investigation.

The inquiry ultimately blamed the tragedy on a series of factors, including an Environment Ministry that failed to follow its own policies, a Conservative government fixated on cutting costs, and the brothers' failure to do their jobs properly.

Source: Canadian Press