By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A man who was killed after his legs were mangled by a cement mixing machine that suddenly turned on while he was cleaning it was disliked by his coworkers because of his work ethic, a court has heard.
Detective Corporal Cyril Walkes said he was told that Kelly Brown’s work ethic didn’t “sit well” with a number of his coworkers at Block World prior to his death in February of last year, so much so that they felt he was “showing them up”.
D/Cpl Walkes said one of Mr Brown’s co-workers told him that Mr Brown “was just performing at a higher level than the others”, and that he would consequently hear “resentment” and “chitter-chatter” from some of the staff from time to time.
The officer’s evidence came after Block World’s manager, James Wallace, revealed his suspicions that a former employee pushed the power button to turn the mixer on while Mr Brown was inside, and was the only employee seen near the machine when the incident occurred.
D/Cpl Walkes further stated that one employee in particular, Felix Wallace, who was assigned to help Mr Brown clean the machine that day but didn’t, aroused his suspicion when he and his senior, Detective Sergeant Darren Stubbs, were conducting their preliminary inquiries.
D/Cpl Walkes said when he “sternly” told Mr Wallace and a few other Block World employees that they would exhaust all avenues in investigating Mr Brown’s death, Mr Wallace put his hand on his stomach, asked to be excused from where they were and never returned.
D/Cpl Walkes said he nor D/Sgt Stubbs, got the opportunity to interview Mr Wallace. In fact, D/Cpl Walkes said “the persons that have the answers were never spoken to” to the best of his knowledge.
D/Cpl Walkes explained that based on the information he and D/Sgt Stubbs got from their preliminary inquiries into the matter, he had recommended to his superiors that further interviews be conducted in the matter. He also said he and D/Sgt Stubbs had arranged for further interviews to take place.
The officer also said as he and D/Sgt Stubbs had a good grasp of the incident, and were thus “very confident” that they were the ideal people to see the investigation through to its conclusion.
However, D/Cpl Walkes said those interviews never took place subsequent to making his recommendations. He said he honestly could not say why.
“As far as I’m concerned (the investigation) is still open,” he said.
D/Cpl Walkes’ testimony came during an inquest into Mr Brown’s death on February 19, 2018. He was injured while at work at Block World, located behind FYP on Wulff Road.
According to initial reports, Mr Brown, who had only started working at Block World on January 9, 2018, was in the process of cleaning the mixer while the electricity was off, when the power suddenly came back on and amputated his legs. He was later taken to hospital where he died.
Based on the evidence led thus far, however, Mr Brown’s death may not have been an accident as initially thought.
Mr Wallace previously testified about his suspicions that his former employee, Sean Pennerman, inadvertently turned on the machine without knowing that Mr Brown was inside.
Mr Wallace said in canvassing his employees in the days following the incident, one senior employee, Perry Winder, said he saw Mr Pennerman by the control panel near the mixer. In fact, Mr Wallace said he was told that Mr Pennerman was “the first one at the mixer”, though it is unclear if he got to the machine before or after Mr Brown.
Mr Wallace said Mr Winder told him that he heard a “scream”, and when he turned and looked towards the mixer, Mr Pennerman, whom he said was driving the cement block loader that day, was there and turned the machine off.
Mr Wallace said based on what he was told, Mr Pennerman pushed the button somehow thinking he was stopping the mixer, but actually started the machine, all the while unaware that Mr Brown was inside.
Mr Wallace said though Mr Pennerman never actually admitted to pushing the button when he conducted his internal investigation, there was no other explanation for the machine randomly turning on.
However, Mr Wallace said he’d never observed any issues between Messrs Brown and Pennerman, as both were “very quiet” individuals. Additionally, he said, Mr Pennerman is a “good family man” who wouldn’t “play around” with something like that.
Mr Wallace also said that at that time, none of the employees were squabbling or going at each other to his knowledge.
When D/Cpl Walkes took the witness stand, he testified that he was on patrol with D/Sgt Stubbs at around 2pm on the date in question when he received a message from Police Control Room of an accident at the FYP compound.
D/Cpl Walkes said he and D/Sgt Stubbs ultimately went to the Princess Margaret Hospital after getting additional information that Mr Brown had been taken to the hospital to seek medical attention. Upon their arrival, he said, a doctor told them that Mr Brown had died ot his injuries.
D/Cpl Walkes said he and his partner then asked to see the body, and were shown the lower part of Mr Brown’s body. He said the man’s right leg was “severely mangled”.
After viewing Mr Brown’s body, he said he and D/Sgt Stubbs went to the waiting area in a bid to conduct initial inquiries. He said they were alerted to the family room area where they spoke with a number of men who identified themselves as Block World employees.
D/Cpl Walkes said he and his partner subsequently informed the group that Mr Brown had died of his injuries and that he and D/Sgt Stubbs would be launching a full investigation into the matter. D/Cpl Walkes said he “sternly” warned the men that he and D/Sgt Stubbs would “leave no stone unturned” in getting to the bottom of what happened.
D/Cpl Walkes said when he said that, Felix Wallace, a “heavy-set” man wearing a green, Democratic National Alliance (DNA) party t-shirt, put his hands on his stomach and asked to be excused from the room. D/Cpl Walkes said he found that as being “odd”, because while all of the employees were “saddened” by Mr Brown’s death, only Felix Wallace opted to leave.
D/Cpl Walkes said when the man asked to be excused, he made it sound like he just “needed a moment” to regain his composure. Thus, D/Cpl Walkes said he and D/Sgt Stubbs continued to address the other men with the belief that Felix Wallace would rejoin them. However, he said the man never came back, and they never got a chance to interview him.
However, the officer said one of the other employees, Mr Dupree, who has an American accent, stayed and gave him and his partner a basic understanding of what took place that day. D/Cpl Walkes said it was Mr Dupree who identified the man who left the meeting as Felix Wallace.
D/Cpl Walkes went on to say that it was Mr Dupree who told him about the protocol in cleaning the mixer, and about how the other employees felt about Mr Brown’s work ethic. The officer said Mr Dupree described Mr Brown was a “really good worker” and someone who was “really energetic and always willing to work and do extra hours”, something the other employees weren’t too keen about.
After speaking with Mr Dupree, D/Cpl Walkes said he and D/Sgt Stubbs asked him to accompany them to Block World to better explain things to them. D/Cpl Walkes said when they arrived at the compound, the site was like a “ghost town”; no one was there. However, he said other employees eventually started showing up.
D/Cpl Walkes said Mr Dupree led them to the cement mixing machine and showed them the power switch. The officer said while inspecting the mixer, he could see a “large quantity” of blood inside the machine’s drum. He also said Mr Brown’s air chisel that he was using to clean the machine was still inside the drum, and also covered in blood. At that point, D/Cpl Walkes said he and his partner decided to secure the scene.
D/Cpl Walkes said they suspended their walkthrough with Mr Dupree and contacted officers from the Crime Scene Unit (CSI) for that purpose.
At some point, D/Cpl Walkes said he and his partner observed a surveillance camera situated on the rear of FYP that overlooked the Block World compound and in particular, the area where the cement mixer was. D/Cpl Walkes said based on the camera’s placement, it would have given a “good view” of what actually happened. However, D/Cpl Walkes said the camera was not working, thus preventing them from obtaining any footage.
D/Cpl Walkes said various other persons started showing up at the compound, such as Mr Brown’s brother Geno Brown and other family members, as well as Mr Wallace, who had just come back in town. D/Cpl Walkes said Mr Wallace was interviewed on everything from company policies to employee rostering. The officer said Mr Wallace also reported that he was in contact with a specialist to determine if the accident was the result of a mechanical error.
D/Cpl Walkes said after interviewing Mr Wallace, he and his partner informed him that they wanted to arrange a meeting with all of his employees, either at CDU or the Block World compound. D/Cpl Walkes said most of the employees preferred to speak with the officers at Block World. However, D/Cpl Walkes said such an arrangement never materialized.
When asked why it never happened, D/Cpl Walkes explained that when he and D/Sgt Stubbs returned to CDU, they updated their commanding officers on the incident, and prepared a summary detailing all of the information they had gathered up to that point, as well as their recommendations. His recommendation was that further inquiries should be made.
D/Cpl Walkes explained that when a matter is reported, it would be handled by the General Investigation Unit. Once recommendations are made, the file is then assigned to another area. He said in most cases pertaining to incidents of that nature, the file would be forwarded to the homicide unit for further investigation, though it may not necessarily be a homicide investigation.
However, D/Cpl Walkes said where the file ultimately ends up depends on his superiors. He said they may forward it to the homicide unit, or, in the present case, they could have sent it back to D/Sgt Stubbs for him to continue the investigation. And such a decision can be affected by issues like resources, manpower, and the incident in question, D/Cpl Walkes said.
D/Cpl Walkes said in his view, he and D/Sgt Stubbs had a “good grasp” of the situation because they had followed the “right steps” in conducting the preliminary inquiries.
“So I’m very confident that we could have continued the investigation,” he said.
The case continues.