Plea expected by DTI Monday
August 5, 2002
Negotiations are being conducted to reduce charges pending against an owner of a Minden aerosol recycling firm accused of workplace safety violations stemming from a blast that killed one and injured three other workers Sept. 17, 2001.
Walter Gonzalez, 47, now employed as a lead environmental safety officer at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., is the owner of Depressurized Technologies Inc.
His attorney Noel Manoukian said they are reportedly negotiating with the Nevada Office of the Attorney General and the Douglas County District Attorney. He said Gonzalez may plead no contest to some charges during arraignment Monday.
The arraignment is scheduled for Douglas District Court Aug. 9 before Judge Michael P. Gibbons.
Gonzalez faces two felony charges of failure to perform duty and/or acting in willful or wanton disregard against persons or property because of the Sept. 17 blast, filed by the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, according to McCormick.
Douglas County District Attorneys are working with the state’s attorney general’s office, which filed criminal felony charges from its Workers’ Compensation Fraud Unit for failure to provide and secure industrial insurance compensation for the killed and injured employees.
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Lead prosecutors, Gregory Zunino of the attorney general’s office, and Michael McCormick, deputy district attorney in Douglas County, confirmed they are negotiating the case, but would not confirm what those negotiations entail.
Zunino said some charges may be dismissed but Gonzalez will be liable for all workers’ compensation liability that resulted from the DTI blast.
In preliminary testimony, former employees allege they were taking safety shortcuts and keeping timesaving techniques secret from day supervisors at the recycling plant near the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
State inspectors say the plant exploded when a spark from a forklift ignited butane and propane gases being released as workers punctured aerosol cans with metal spikes as part of the recycling process.
On July 11, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Board, upheld a previous ruling citing Gonzalez with $112,800 in fines for numerous safety violations, including three more serious “willful” citations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement Section of Industrial Relations for offenses under the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Act and adopted standards.
The review board’s five members appointed by Gov. Kenny Guinn, and provide administrative review for appeals.
In effect, the citations charge Gonzalez failed to provide a safe workplace.
In addition, Manoukian said Gonzalez faces an Environmental Protection Agency fine of $21,500, and is anticipating filing of several civil cases or claims for disability /or rehabilitation by the family of killed worker Jaimie Gonzales, who left behind a wife and four children, and Raul Gonzales, Susano Lopez and Ceclio San Juan, the other employees injured in the blast.
Despite the legal maneuvering, Gonzalez plans to get DTI up and running again in Minden by early next year.
Manoukian said construction has been delayed, but they are working with OSHA and county building offices to comply with all regulations, including progressive and safe equipment.
“There are not many depressurizing firms in America and it’s good for recycling,” said Manoukian.