Plumber killed in trench collapse remembered as compassionate outdoorsman

Liam Johnston had expressed concerns about Calgary jobsite to girlfriend

Plumber killed in trench collapse remembered as compassionate outdoorsman
Emergency crews respond to trench collapse on June 8, 2023 Source: CTV News

A man tragically killed in a trench collapse in Calgary last week is being remembered as a compassionate and genuine outdoorsman who was loved by many. Liam Johnston, described by his girlfriend Emily Gofton as a loving family man and a protector of those he cared about, will be deeply missed.

"It's hard to accept that it’s real. Sleeping in our bed without him and waking up and knowing that he’s not going to be there again. I just miss him so much," Gofton expressed sorrowfully to CTV News.

Known for his adventurous spirit, Johnston enjoyed kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, and playing music. Gofton reminisced about their meeting almost two years ago while working together at Mr. Mike's Plumbing, where Johnston served as an apprentice plumber. She fondly remembered him as the hardest worker in the company, attributing her initial interest in him to his unwavering dedication.

"He would work from 7 a.m. and not get home until 12 a.m. He really would do anything to show his loyalty and passion for the company," Gofton said, reflecting on his tireless work ethic.

On Thursday morning the 27-year-old was working on sewer repairs in the Charleswood community of Calgary. While attempting to access a sewer line, Johnston descended into a hole ranging from three to six meters deep. One of the trench walls unexpectedly collapsed, and a large amount of dirt and debris cascaded from the steep slope above, burying him.

Gofton received the alarming call notifying her of the incident, prompting her immediate rush to the scene. "On the way there, I just kept telling myself 'I'm gonna get there, he's gonna be okay, we're gonna be home tonight and we’re gonna be fine,'" she recounted, expressing her desperate hope for a positive outcome.

Throughout the entire day, emergency crews relentlessly labored to rescue Johnston, utilizing an excavator and a vacuum truck to aid in the operation. Tragically, it was Thursday night when members of the fire department's technical rescue team recovered Johnston's lifeless body.

Both the Calgary Police Service and Occupational Health and Safety have launched investigations. The authorities are diligently working to uncover the circumstances surrounding Johnston's untimely death.

Gofton says Johnston had been expressing concerns about the chaotic state of the job site and messaged her the night before the incident. "He had said that the job was a big mess, there was a lot of unexpected things that were happening on the site," she recalled, shedding light on his apprehensions. "His last message was 'Tomorrow is going to be a rough day.'"

Mr. Mike's Plumbing released a statement expressing profound sadness. The company acknowledged Johnston as an upstanding individual and a valued member of their excavation team, emphasizing the immense loss his absence leaves behind. They extend their deepest condolences to all who knew and loved him.

Bobby Jimerson, Johnston's childhood friend from Waterloo, Ontario, who also worked alongside him in Calgary, remembers him as a truly exceptional person. "He was just a rare breed. He was the best person I ever met. He made me want to become a better man. He inspired me to become better," Jimerson spoke emotionally, illustrating Johnston's impactful presence. "His main goal was to just try to make everybody around him happy."

Jimerson disclosed that he has been in close contact with Johnston's family in Ontario, and they are supporting one another during this difficult time. "Liam would want us to learn from this and to try to be as positive as we can and try not to let it ruin us," Jimerson affirmed, reflecting on their shared grief.

Mr. Mike's Plumbing reassured the public that they are collaborating closely with the authorities to ascertain the circumstances of the incident and explore measures to prevent similar accidents in the future.

"Safety is our top priority, and we are committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment for our employees and customers. We will continue to review and improve our safety procedures to ensure that every job is performed with the utmost care and attention to detail," the company emphasized in a statement.

Jimerson and Gofton are demanding answers, driven by their desire to promote workplace safety. Jimerson stressed the importance of ensuring a secure work environment, stating, "I want to make sure the workplace is safer … We have families, we have loved ones. We want to make it home at the end of the day."

Gofton is urging any witnesses or individuals with pertinent information to come forward and share their knowledge. "We want to know how this could've been prevented and we want people held accountable. We want justice for Liam.”