By Connor Lynch
GREY HIGHLANDS — Grey County farmer Emanuel Bauman was convicted last month, in a heart-wrenching case of criminal negligence causing death. Last year, he accidentally ran over his four-year-old son Steven, after Steven fell out of the bucket of the skid steer Bauman was operating. Steven died after his head was trapped under the bucket, according to a court judgement.
Last August, Bauman was building a laneway on his farm, pulling a trailer full of wood chips with a skid steer. He would tip the trailer back and let the wood chips slide out to land on the laneway. Bauman’s two children were accompanying him as he worked, playing with the wood chips and riding in the cab. On the final trip, seven-year-old Luke and four-year-old Steven rode up front in the bucket.
Bauman had to look back to watch the trailer as it dumped chips. He told the court that when he tipped the trailer, it put pressure on the trailer hitch, causing the skid steer to jostle slightly.
Bauman later said he must have been looking backwards when Steven fell out of the bucket. When he looked forward, Steven was nowhere to be seen. He asked Luke where Steven was, and Luke told him that Steven had fallen out. The bucket of the skid steer was low to the ground. As Bauman backed up he saw that Steven’s head had been trapped under the bucket. Bauman said he had only turned his head back and away from his sons momentarily. “While I cannot determine how many seconds passed, the best evidence I have is that Mr. Bauman had to back up about eight feet to get access to Steven’s body,” wrote Justice J.A. Morneau in her May 15 judgement.
Bauman called 911. Multiple ambulances arrived, and Steven was airlifted to hospital, where he later died.
In subsequent police interviews, Bauman said that although the children had asked before, he had never let them ride in the bucket of the skid steer. “It was way too risky. They should not have been in the bucket,” he said.
The skid steer was not a new or unknown piece of equipment. He had owned it for 10 years and had driven it nearly 4,000 hours.
Bauman pleaded not guilty on April 12. He called no witnesses, and conceded all of the evidence that the Crown presented. Wrote Justice Morneau: “Mr. Bauman has always accepted full moral responsibility for his son’s death. The issue is whether Mr. Bauman is criminally responsible for his son’s death.”
Had Bauman only been giving his children a ride in the bucket and not working, he would not have been criminally negligent, she wrote. The same would have been true for letting either child ride along in the cab. But this was not what happened. “Mr. Bauman was operating a potentially dangerous piece of machinery which was pulling a dump trailer and his focus was at times on his work, not his children.”
By his own admission, Bauman knew letting his children ride in the bucket was dangerous and, as he’d said, he’d never let the children ride in the bucket before. But the fact that he knew it was dangerous, would not have been sufficient to find him guilty, wrote Morneau.
It was about what else he knew: That Steven, who only weighed about 50 lb., could easily have fallen out of the bucket; that the bucket moved up and down on the uneven terrain and could jostle Steven; that if Steven fell out when Bauman was looking away, he could be badly hurt or killed by the skid steer; and that Bauman knew there would be times he would be looking away from the children.
“Even if it was only a momentary look-back, any reasonably prudent parent would realize that a four-year-old child could fall from this bucket in seconds with devastating consequences,” she wrote.
In presenting the Crown’s case, the Crown attorney acknowledged he could not find a single criminal law decision in Canada where a child had died in a farming accident.
Many off-farm criminal negligence causing death convictions result in suspended sentences, where the accused is convicted but serves probation, or conditional sentences, effectively house arrest.
Bauman was to return for sentencing on July 23.