Guilty pleas in Langley mushroom farm deaths

Tragedy at a south Langley mushroom farm left three men dead and two permanently injured

Relatives of the victims of a 2008 gas leak at a Langley mushroom farm attended Surrey Court Friday morning (May 13) to witness guilty pleas being entered by three individuals and two companies. L to R: Tracey Phan

Every time 15-year-old Tracey Phan visits her father in hospital, she talks to him even though she isn’t sure he can hear her.

“I don’t know if he understands what I’m saying,” she said.

“I don’t know if he can see me or not, but I’m just hoping that he can.”

Michael Phan, a Langley father of two, has been in a coma for three years since he was overcome by gas in a South Langley mushroom farm.

He is one of two people who survived but suffered critical injuries in the 2008 incident incident that killed three other men at the farm which produced mushrooms and mushroom manure at 23751 – 16 Ave.

When a pipe burst in a shed used to mix gypsum, chicken manure and water, it released noxious fumes that killed farmworkers Ut Tran (a Surrey resident), Han Pham and Jimmy Chan and permanently injured Tchen Phan and Michael Phan.

Tchen Phan is in a wheelchair and cannot hear, talk, walk or remember what happened to him.

On Friday, a lawyer for the three people who operate two companies at the farm entered guilty pleas to 10 charges of violating provincial safety regulations.

They will be sentenced in September.

Tracey Phan attended the Friday (May 13) morning hearing in Surrey Provincial Court with her mother Phoung Le.

Afterwards, the teen’s voice shook as she explained to reporters what life has been like without a father figure.

“He was always there for me and now that he’s been taken away, it’s so hard,” she said.

“Whatever happens, I can’t ever get my dad back the way he was, ever.”

When Phoung Le was asked if the guilty pleas would bring her some closure, she shook her head slowly.

“Not fair,” she said.

“[It’s] not fair to my family.”

Nga Trieu brought her 10-year-old son Phat with her to see the guilty pleas entered.

Trieu’s husband Han Pham died trying to rescue people from the enclosed space.

“I still don’t know what happened exactly,” the frustrated widow said, speaking through an interpreter.

Asked if the guilty pleas will make her feel any better, she said no.

“I’m not satisfied.”

Under the terms of the plea agreement, charges were dropped against Vy Tri Truong, who was one of the four people originally charged last year following a 10-month investigation by WorkSafe B.C..

The remaining three, Van Thi Truong  Ha Qua Truong and Thinh Huu Doan, and the companies they operate — A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. And H.V. Truong Ltd. –pleaded guilty to 10 of the original 29 charges, including failure to have an occupational health and safety program in place, failure to educate workers about safety, failure to properly supervise workers and failure to make workers aware about confined space hazards,

Their lawyer, Les Mackoff, told reporters his clients pleaded guilty as soon as they reasonably could, but had to review 6,000 pages of material from the prosecutor first.

“Our clients always wanted to accept responsibility for their failings,” Mackoff said, adding that they were admitting to violating safety regulations, not criminal offences.

Two of the individuals, Ha Qua Truong and Thinh Huu Doan were present for the court hearing.

They face a maximum fine of $600,000 and up to six months in jail.

They did not make any statements.


Top picture: Relatives of the victims of a 2008 gas leak at a Langley mushroom farm attended Surrey Court to witness guilty leas being entered by three individuals and two companies. L to R: Tracey Phan, whose father remains in a coma, Phat Trieu and his mother Nga Trieu, whose husband died trying to rescue fellow workers and Phuong Le, Tracey’s mother.  (click to play video). Bottom picture: Lawyer Les Mackoff.

PHOTOS: Dan Ferguson/Langley Times