Orange County District Attorney Sues Companies Over Blast That Killed 2 Workers

Lissen up, Benjamin: unsafe working conditions at a plastics plant in Rancho Santa Margarita led to a 2009 explosion and the deaths of two workers, according to a civil suit filed by the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA). The complaint filed against Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC, Emerson Power Transmission Corp. and Emerson Electric is separate from criminal charges the OCDA is pursuing against two men involved in the industrial accident.

Carl Edward Richardson and Roy Thomas Faulkinbury previously entered not guilty pleas to two felonies. A trial date is pending.

The case was referred to the OCDA by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health after a March 19, 2009, explosion at the plant instantly killed employees Jose Jimenez and Isidro Echeverria. One of the deceased was decapitated from the force of the blast, a third employee was injured, and the plant was destroyed.

An investigation determined Solus and the Emerson firms moved the plastic manufacturing plant in 2007 from Pennsylvania to Rancho Santa Margarita, where a commercial boiler was discarded in favor of a residential version “to avoid the cost and permitting requirements of proper installation,” according to an OCDA statement.

The inexpensive residential heater was unable to heat to the necessary levels for plastic melting, so the automatic safety shut-off protection was dismantled and a new temperature control device to force the heater to work at dangerous levels above its capacity was installed, according ot the complaint.

The overworked heater frequently showed signs of distress, including leaking and a blown safety valve, before finally exploding with such force a hole was blown through the roof, according to the OCDA, which notes Solus, Emerson Power Transmission and Emerson Electric “never re-opened the business in Orange County.”

The companies are accused of recklessness and willful disregard for employee safety, as well other California labor code violations. Besides preventing the companies from operating work environments that run afoul of California law, civil penalties and restitution to be determined at trial are being sought by prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the accident investigation continues, and anyone with information is asked to call Supervising District Attorney Investigator Rick Morton at 949.975.8127.

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