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Calgary worker killed in trench collapse remembered as compassionate outdoorsman

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A man who died after he was buried in a collapsed trench in northwest Calgary is being remembered as a compassionate, kind and genuine person.

Emily Gofton says her boyfriend Liam Johnston loved his family and always looked out for the people he cared about.

"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," she told CTV News.

Gofton says Johnston enjoyed kayaking, hiking, rock climbing and playing music.

The pair met almost two years ago while working at Mr. Mike's Plumbing. Johnston was an apprentice plumber.

"He was the hardest worker," Gofton said, adding that’s what made her want to be friends with him.

"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."

The 27-year-old was doing sewer repairs in the community of Charleswood on Thursday morning.

The Calgary Fire Department says he climbed down the ladder into a three to six-metre-deep hole to access a sewer line when a large amount of dirt and debris fell on top of him from the steep slope above.

According to officials, one of the walls collapsed and buried him.

Both the Calgary Police Service and Occupational Health and Safety are investigating the death of a worker who was buried in a trench in Charleswood on June 8, 2023.

Gofton says she got the call almost immediately after and rushed over.

"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 said.

"It really just terrified me even more, the thought of losing him."

Emergency crews worked through the entire day, using an excavator and a vacuum truck to assist in the rescue.

Members of the fire department's technical rescue team recovered Johnston's body on Thursday night.

Gofton says Johnston texted her the night before the incident about concerns he had with the job site.

"He had said that the job was a big mess, there was a lot of unexpected things that were happening on the site," she said.

"His last message was 'Tomorrow is going to be a rough day.'"

In a statement, Mr. Mike's Plumbing said it is "deeply saddened" by Johnston’s death.

"He was an upstanding individual and a valued member of our excavation team who will be sorely missed," the company said.

"We extend our sincerest condolences to everyone who knew and loved him."

Liam Johnston and Emily Gofton. (Credit: Emily Gofton)

Bobby Jimerson grew up with Johnston in Waterloo, Ont., was his co-worker in Calgary and was his best friend.

"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 said.

"His main goal was to just try to make everybody around him happy."

Jimerson says he has been in contact with Johnston’s family in Ontario and that they've all been supporting each other through this.

"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," he said.

'JUSTICE FOR LIAM'

Mr. Mike's Plumbing says it is working closely with authorities to figure out what happened and how to prevent similar incidents 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 said in a statement.

Jimerson and Gofton want answers.

"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," Jimerson said.

Gofton is urging any of the other workers who witnessed what happened or have information to come forward and share what they know.

"We want to know how this could've been prevented and we want people held accountable. We want justice for Liam."

Alberta Occupational Health and Safety and Calgary police are investigating.

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