‘One of his nicknames was Austin Towers’

19-year-old Austin Benz, as a member of the Grizzlies hockey team and as a Borea Construction crew member in North Stormont. Shane Benz/Facebook

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

NORTH STORMONT — Austin Benz’s budding career had just reached a new pinnacle, high above the rural Eastern Ontario landscape, a month and a half after arriving here to work on the Nation Rise wind project.

The 19-year-old from Redcliff, Alberta, learned Oct. 22 that his employer, Borea Construction — principal contractor on the 29-turbine development — had granted him a promotion and a special white helmet to go with it.

He was at the wheel of his beloved pickup truck and heading ‘home’ that evening — to the Cornwall hotel where he had been staying.

“He loved the job and all of his work crew,” Austin’s father, Shane Benz, told NVN, a week after the single-vehicle collision that tragically claimed the young man’s life outside Avonmore. “From what I’m told, he was just given Lead Hand the day he passed.”

Austin landed the job with the contractor in the summer of 2019, right after graduating Eagle Butte High School, his father said over Facebook Messenger.

Unfazed by heights, he would send his parents videos and photos of the views he enjoyed in North Stormont Township, from way up as a member of the turbine “top out crew.”

“They put everything on the top. One of his nicknames there was ‘Austin Towers,'” his father said.

A hockey player, Austin had suited up through Midget level (U18) for the Redcliff Grizzlies team. His two younger brothers, ages 13 and 17, have followed in his footsteps as defensemen.

His mother, Laura Benz, is taking the loss “really hard so I’m trying to support her as much as I possibly can,” said Shane Benz, who also noted the “absolutely amazing” support of their community. The family literally has no more room for food, he reported, also acknowledging a gofundme established to assist with costs.

Austin drove himself to Eastern Ontario in the 2016 Dodge truck he had purchased last fall, a machine “he sure did love,” his father said.

His southbound vehicle left County Rd. 15 and struck a house at the intersection of Duff’s Corners Rd. shortly before 8:30 p.m. on the night he died, according to police.

“The OPP conducted a detailed investigation into the incident and determined that alcohol or other impairment was not involved, nor was there any criminal aspect,” SD&G OPP Const. Tylor Copeland told NVN this week, adding, “The investigation is not closed as of yet.”

Offered Shane Benz: “We think he fell asleep. That’s really all we know.”

Asked for Austin’s impressions of North Stormont and the area, he replied that his son “worked quite a bit so maybe didn’t have a whole lot of time to enjoy everything. He liked driving around Ottawa. He was staying in Casselman when he first got there.”

But it was the view from the top of the windmills that Austin especially enjoyed while here, his father said.

Project developer EDP Renewables acknowledged stopping work on the project for three days last weekend in the wake of the tragedy — which didn’t go unnoticed in the community.

“EDP Renewables is deeply saddened by the news of the loss of one of our Borea construction team members,” the firm said in a statement through EDP’s Ken Little yesterday. “We learned that the accident occurred after work hours in an area southeast of the Nation Rise Wind Farm, and EDP Renewables is working closely to support the site team during this time. Out of respect for the individual, operations were temporarily suspended on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The safety of our employees, construction workers, and surrounding communities remains the highest priority, and our thoughts are with the family, friends, and co-workers of the individual during this difficult time.”

In addition to his immediate kin, Austin leaves behind a girlfriend, Abbi, whose family “took him in as their own,” reports the obituary released today. Respects for the deceased will be paid tomorrow, Oct. 31, at a Medicine Hat funeral chapel.

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