No-show witness ordered to testify in mushroom farm inquest

Farm co-owner who failed to appear at coroner's inquest could be arrested if he doesn't attend Wednesday's proceedings

Langley mushroom farm owners L to R: Van Thi Troung

A key witness who was a no-show at the Coroner’s Inquest into the deaths of three Langley mushroom farm workers was located by RCMP on Tuesday night.

RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen said Thinh Huu Doan, who was part-owner of the now-bankrupt farm, was located in Langley and served documents compelling him to attend court on Wednesday.

It isn’t known why Doan, who was subpoenaed weeks ago to testify, didn’t attend the Burnaby court room.

“It will be for him to advise the coroner’s court why he did not appear,” said Thiessen.

Doan plays a key role in the inquest, as he was the supervisor who oversaw two mushroom composting employees who unclogged the pipe containing the deadly gas that killed three men and severely brain damaged two others four years ago.

Worker Ut Tran unbolted the pipe covering to get at a blockage and reached in with a screwdriver to clear the line.

Then Tran said something about a strange smell. Doan says he told Tran to leave. But Tran took one step toward a ladder and fell, face down, into 16 inches of waste water at the bottom of the shed.

The second man stayed with Tran, while Doan left the shed to get help.

In the next few minutes, three other men would enter the shed and be overcome by the fumes.

According to Thiessen, the presiding coroner Norm Leibel did not issue a warrant for Doan’s arrest. If Doan is a no-show on Wednesday, it will be up to Leibel to order an arrest warrant.

On Tuesday, the lead investigator for WorkSafe BC testified that A-1 Mushroom was a dangerous place to work. The pump house the men died in was destined to be dangerous, given its poor design and confined space. Most of it was built without engineering consultation.

Tran, 35, Han Pham, 47, and Chi Wai (Jimmy) Chan died on Sept. 5, 2008 while working at A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. on 16 Avenue. Two other employees have been left with permanent brain damage.

One survivor, Tchen Phan, is in a wheelchair and cannot hear, talk or walk. The other, Michael Phan, a Langley father of two, has been in a coma since the 2008 incident.

Leibel and a jury will hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses to determine the facts surrounding these deaths.

Farm owner Ha Quan Truong was also expected to take the stand on Wednesday.

The jury can not find any legal fault but can make recommendations to prevent future deaths from happening.

The inquest is expected to continue until Tuesday.

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