RPI Coatings Inc. has been ordered to pay more than $1.65 million in compensation and penalties for violations associated with the 2007 tunnel fire at the Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant that claimed five lives and injured three.
In October 2007, flammable solvents ignited trapping workers inside a large water tunnel being recoated at the Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant. Hazardous conditions caused by the fire halted an attempt by local emergency personal to free the trapped workers who were more than a quarter mile away from the only entry/exit point within the tunnel. Several attempts were also made to lower lifesaving equipment into the tunnel as crews worked to extinguish the fire, but ultimately these too would fail resulting in the deaths of five workers by asphyxiation.
Killed were Donald Dejaynes, 43, Dupree Holt, 37, James St. Peters, 52, Gary Foster, 48, and Anthony Aguirre, 18, all of California.
Federal prosecutors charged plant owner Xcel Energy and paint company RPI Coatings with criminal safety violations after an investigative report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded adequate safety measures had not been in place to prevent the fire or to provide a viable means of rescue in case of an emergency.
In June a jury acquitted Xcel Energy and its subsidiary Public Service Co. of Colorado of all counts following a nearly three-week trial.
On December 19, RPI pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of workplace safety violations resulting in death. As part of the plea agreement RPI will pay $1.55 million in compensation to the families of the deceased, serve five years of probation and pay $100,000 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Separate charges against RPI executives were also dismissed as a part of the deal.
In a statement regarding the guilty plea, OSHA Regional Administrator Greg Baxter offered, “Neither money nor protracted litigation can restore these men’s lives; however, this settlement sends a message that we will work collaboratively with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver to see those who callously choose not to protect employees be criminally prosecuted. We simply will not allow workers’ lives to be put at risk in order to earn a day’s wages. We greatly appreciate the excellent work done by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver in this case. We also would like to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Peña for his personal commitment to this case.”
Click here to access a copy of the RPI plea agreement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Colorado.