Judge says lack of safety precautions led to the death of Josh Chapman; court case still pending against filmmaker
A sentence in Provincial Court Judge Douglas Moss ruling sums up the extent to which the organizers of a snowmobile stunt failed 24-year-old Josh Chapman on the evening he sustained burns that led to his death two weeks later:
"So completely inadequate were the safety measures, people dumped their beer on Josh Chapman trying to extinguish the flames," wrote Moss, after finding a young offender from Squamish guilty of negligence causing death for his role in the incident.
Moss determined that the young male was criminally negligent when he threw a bucket of gasoline on Chapman as he was driving his snowmobile through an existing wall of flames. The accused admitted as much to the RCMP officers who arrested him early the next morning based on their interviews with witnesses.
A criminal negligence causing death case is also pending against Jeremy Deichen of the Drunk In Public film crew for his role in Chapmans death. The Drunk In Public films are produced by Loaded Gun Productions in Surrey, and feature extreme stunts and wild party footage.
According to Moss, "the crew hurriedly left the scene before the fire consuming Chapman had been extinguished."
The preliminary discovery hearing for Deichen starts on April 13.
The incident occurred at approximately 11:30 p.m. on July 20, 2002 at a birthday party for a local resident on Enterprise Way in the Squamish industrial park. Emergency crews responded and Chapman was first taken to the Squamish hospital before being transported to Vancouver General Hospitals burn ward. He was in critical condition with burns to 85 per cent of his body. He passed away as a result of his injuries on Aug. 5, 2002.
Chapman was a professional snowboarder from Squamish who lived in Whistler, and was making a name for himself in videos and competitions. He was also an experienced snowmobiler, and had worked with the Drunk In Public film crew before the incident.
According to witnesses, cars were doing burn-outs and dirt bikes were racing up and down the road prior to Chapmans injury, and Chapman had earlier consented to ride his sled through the flames. Chapman was not wearing any protective clothing for the stunt, and no emergency crews were present. There werent even any fire extinguishers.
Judge Moss released his judgement on March 24 after eight-days of testimony from 25 different witnesses at the party and emergency services personnel, including the accused who was 15 years old at the time of the incident. Video footage from the party and the fatal stunt was also shown in court.
In his defence, the youth admitted to attention deficit disorder and to being severely inebriated at the time of the incident, consuming 12 beers that day.
He was also told to throw the gas onto the fire at least three times by people at the event.
The judge allowed that peer pressure and alcohol likely played a role in the youths actions.
"(The youth) was no doubt impressed with the fact that he was at a party with people considerably older than he and with all of the vehicular activity, loud music, girls, and alcohol being consumed," wrote Moss.
There was also a question of whether the youth had the mental capacity to appreciate the risk, given his drinking and the fact that he was already in a special education program.
The judge rejected both those arguments on the grounds that the "activity was inherently dangerous and undertaken by the accused when he knew or ought to have known that a much more dangerous situation could easily be created.
"Even considering the accuseds medical diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, his youthfullness, his immaturity, and indeed his self-induced state of intoxication to some degree or another, he is not relieved of criminal liability.
"In addition, (the youth) cannot rely on evidence which tends to suggest he was told or directed when to throw the gasoline by an older adult person. He was not intimidated or under duress.
"He was aware the danger would be increased by him throwing more gasoline onto an already burning fire, yet he did it," wrote Moss.
The youth will return to court on June 8 for a pre-sentencing report. As a young offender he cannot be identified.