CNEWS, September 22, 1998

Boys' train deaths ruled accidental

PETERBOROUGH, Ont. (CP) -- A coroner has ruled the deaths of two teens from a military-style boarding school killed by a train in March were accidental.

Dr. Peter Clark, regional coroner for central Ontario, said in a statement Wednesday that the investigation into the deaths of Matthew Toppi, 17, and Christopher Brown, 16, has been completed and no inquest will be called.

At the request of the boys' parents, further details surrounding the deaths would not be released, the statement said.

The two Robert Land Academy students died March 7 after being hit by a CN freight train in Burlington southwest of Toronto. The boys had walked away from the Niagara Region school the previous day. The train's engineer reported that both boys were lying on the tracks, and that Toppi, of Manitouwadge, Ont., had gotten up and tried to pull Brown off the tracks at the last moment.

Their deaths sparked debate over the merits of the 20-year-old school.

Supporters said its tough-love approach works miracles in turning bad boys into contributing members of society, but critics called it a glorified boot camp that mistreats youths.

One of the dead cadets had been at the academy two years, the other was in his third year.

A member of the governing board suggested the boys had been at the school long enough to know what was expected of them and that the strict discipline had nothing to do with their deaths.

The school has 160 students, from Grade 7 to OAC level, some there because of dealings with the courts.

Brown, of Stouffville, Ont., has bolted from the academy in Wellandport early in the morning on two weeks before his death. He was caught by police in Niagara Falls, Ont., that evening and returned to the school.

Police won't forcibly return a student to the school if they are of the age of onsent, although they capture and return fleeing cadets who are on parole and required to be on campus.

A former student, at the academy in the 1980s, said cadets faced punishment for running away. In his time, he said, it generally involved running for half an hour, carrying a heavy backpack.

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