OTTAWA, Ont. – Owner/operator Kevin West, 38, is feeling mighty burned up.
And it’s not just because his dump truck was arsoned just days before he got to start using it.
West had just purchased the second hand Mack tandem dump for $15,000 when the incident occurred.
He was planning on using it to start a new business, but was waiting on the man who sold it to him to put new tires on it and do whatever he needed to do to get it safetied.
That was all part of the deal.
West ponied up the money, but never got his truck.
That’s because the truck, parked in a yard in an industrial area for about two weeks after he purchased it, was arsoned.
“The guy who was selling the truck to me kept delaying putting the tarp on and getting tires and such,” said West.
“And I kept calling him because I’d already paid my $15,000.”
On April 11, 2004, West received a call from an arsonist investigator informing him his truck had gone up in flames.
“When I got there my truck was a heap of rubble,” West said.
Signs of arson were evident.
“The investigator asked me if I had a can of accelerant in the back of my truck. I told him all I had there was a shovel and my ownership papers.”
West said he got the papers back from the seller later the same day.
“He said he’d been in the truck working on it on Saturday (the day before the fire),” said West. “He gave me the plates too.”
That’s when West had a brainstorm.
“There was a company with a yard and a security camera just across the street, so I went the next morning and asked them if I could see the tape,” said West.
“Sure enough, the camera caught a vehicle pulling up and two guys walking over in the direction of my truck on Sunday morning. Then the tape shows smoke coming up from that direction, and the two weasels running back to their vehicle, getting in, doing a three point turn and taking off.”
The vehicle used by the individuals resembled the vehicle owned by the seller, said West, who immediately informed police of the tape.
Police seized it, and a news story appeared in local papers recounting details of the incident and asking anyone who had information about it to come forward.
That’s when things went from bad to worse for West.
“I thought because of the tape I’d get my insurance no problem, but instead the police dragged me in to question me,” said West.
“They even gave me a polygraph and suggested I was lying.”
Apparently police had administered a polygraph to the seller of the dump truck as well.
West said he learned from police that the seller claimed his truck, the one that appeared in the security footage, had been stolen early in the morning prior to the fire.
“He passed his polygraph,” said West, “Even though he didn’t report his truck stolen until police asked him about it.”
Still, thanks to the videotape, West got his insurance money.
“I didn’t get it until August, but I got it,” he said. In mid-September, West went out and got himself another second hand dump.
By then Ministry of Transportation of Ontario investigator Mark Stang had looked into the mechanical safety certificate issued on the truck, a copy of which the seller had given to West.
“I investigated the garage as a result of the ongoing police investigation and found the garage wasn’t even licensed to give the safety certification,” confirmed Stang.
The garage was charged as a result.
But West is still waiting for satisfaction.
He’s angry that police forced him to take a polygraph test when they had footage depicting the seller’s vehicle at the scene of the crime.
He’s also angry that Ottawa police aren’t pursuing the investigation in order to lay criminal charges against the perpetrator(s).
But there’s little he can do to force them to do so, even though he has requested they give him the videotape by making an access to information application.
“They’ve refused to release the videotape and as far as I’m concerned that means they’re protecting themselves and the real criminal from prosecution,” said West.
The department, for its part, explained its refusal to release the footage in a letter signed by Livia Brandon, Freedom of Information coordinator, to West’s lawyer that reads as follows:
“Access is denied to the information you requested pursuant to sections 8, 14 and 38.”
The upshot of the cited subsections is that the disclosure of the footage could interfere with the investigation and the department can refuse to disclose information that would result in an invasion of personal privacy.
The letter does not explain whose personal information would be revealed as a result of releasing the footage, but West suspects the real reason for not releasing the footage has little to do with any ongoing investigation.
“I think they just want to hide the fact they botched the investigation,” said West.
“The insurance company and the MTO believe me. And I not only lost my truck, I lost any money I could have made with it while the police were conducting the investigation. That’s four months of lost wages. I may have finally gotten my insurance money, but I want my lost wages back too.”
In short, West may be on his feet again, but more than a year after he found his dump truck in cinders he’s still feeling burned.