Mother of Kelowna crane collapse victim on mission to establish memorial with country star’s help

Danielle Pritchett’s son was one of five men killed in downtown Kelowna nearly three years ago when a crane being dismantled collapsed to the ground in one of the most significant workplace accidents the city has ever seen.

Her son Cailen Vilness, as well as Jared Zook, Brad Zawislak, Patrick Stemmer, and Eric Stemmer’s deaths on July 12  2021, stunned the community. In the days that followed a makeshift memorial was erected at the construction site.

Flowers, notes and photos accumulated,  and Pritchett said she and others found some solace remembering their loved ones there. Unfortunately, it was short lived.

Click to play video: 'Fundraising campaign launched for victims of Kelowna crane collapse memorial'

Fundraising campaign launched for victims of Kelowna crane collapse memorial

“We were asked to take it down, and it was devastating for us and the families,” she said.

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“As it is right now, we have nowhere as families to go to mourn or just reflect…. We feel like it was important to have a place to remember our men who didn’t come home that day. It’s a tragedy.  It’s important to have a place remember. ”

They will, eventually, have that place.  The city donated a piece of land that will eventually be home to a memorial to the men who were killed that day and now Pritchett is looking to the community to help get things going.

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More money, however, needs to be collected to complete the work and Pritchett is leading the charge with a fundraising effort that could, for the first time, bring some lightness to some of her darkest days.

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“We’ve been fundraising for some time, but we don’t have enough to break ground at the moment,” she said.

She’s tapped in to what she’s calling her Kitimat connection to get the work done. She and her cousin, Canadian Country music star Aaron Pritchett grew up in the northern B.C. city, and he is going to perform May 19 to raise some funds for the project.

They were looking for a venue, when they thought of Jason Parkes, who they also knew from growing up in Kitimat. Parkes the winemaker and musician behind locations likes the Hatch and Crown and Thieves considered what was available.

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He realized his venue was too small so he set his sights on something bigger.

Click to play video: 'Kelowna RCMP recommend charges in deadly crane collapse'

Kelowna RCMP recommend charges in deadly crane collapse

“Talking to Aaron, we want people to celebrate this,” Parkes said in an interview last month.

“We want people to have positive energy for something that is very beautiful. For the families, and for everyone that it affected in the community.”

That’s when they reached out to Kris Hargrave, who offered up his venue, Revelry Food and Music Hub,  free of charge.

“Instantly it felt right, you know, our location to downtown, and when it happened, we were around and it just felt like the perfect home for it so it was a pretty easy yes for us when Jason brought this to us,” Hargrave said.

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Parkes’s band will open for Aaron Pritchett, and Hargrave will host the whole thing. Funds raised will be used for the community memorial.

The generosity is something that Danielle Pritchett is incredibly grateful for.

“They’ve been incredibly generous and kind,” she said.

Now, the work at hand is the selling of tickets for the May 19 event. So far, Pritchett said that there have only been 71 tickets sold but they’re hoping to sell more and raise thousands of dollars and more is needed.

The Rise Memorial will be built at Knowles Heritage Park to commemorate the lives lost in this workplace catastrophe.

Funds raised should cover the cost of construction and maintenance of the site.

A silent auction will be held which features many valuable prizes including a private backyard BBQ with Aaron Pritchett.
General Admission Main Floor $60. The VIP Balcony Experience Including Complimentary Snacks & Pre event Meet + Greet with Aaron Pritchett $149.

The RCMP recommended British Columbia’s Prosecution Service pursue a criminal negligence charge in the crane collapse. The RCMP did not reveal who should be charged yet.

WorkSafeBC completed its investigation last May, it has not made its findings public.

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