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Canadian jury clears railworkers in Lac-Mégantic runaway train disaster

Handout/Sûreté du Québec/AFP | This photo provided July 8, 2013 by Sûreté du Québec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train that derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada.
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A Canadian jury on Friday cleared three railway workers of criminal negligence in one of the nation’s worst train disasters, which killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in 2013.


Former Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train engineer and conductor Thomas Harding, operations manager Jean Demaître, and railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, faced 47 counts of criminal negligence one for each death in the disaster.

The 12-person jury struggled over nine days to reach the verdict, asking the presiding judge on several occasions for clarifications on matters of law, raising concerns they might have become deadlocked.

“It was a long process, but now it’s over and my only hope is that we can actually turn the page and become anonymous again, as we were before 2013,” an emotional Labrie told reporters in the courthouse.

In addition to the casualties, some 30 buildings in Lac-Mégantic were completely destroyed on July 6, 2013, when a 72-car train carrying shale oil came loose in the middle of the night, rolled downhill unmanned, derailed and exploded.

More than 2,000 people had to be evacuated from the picturesque lakeside town. Firefighters needed two days to put out the raging blaze.

After Friday’s decision, Harding’s lawyer, Tom Walsh, said this was “a very fair verdict,” adding that his client was “terribly relieved and terribly thankful to the system".

“He will always be the poster boy for Lac-Mégantic and the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, whether we like it or not,” his lawyer said.

After the crash, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic declared bankruptcy.

The disaster sparked calls to improve rail safety, prompting Canada to end use of one-man crews to move dangerous goods and enhance protection standards for tank cars transporting crude.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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