Court date set in fatal explosion

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MINDEN -- A March 27 court date has been set for the owner of a Minden aerosol recycling plant that exploded in September 2001.

Walter Gonzalez, 46, surrendered to Douglas County Sheriff's deputies on Thursday.

The owner of Depressurized Technologies International Inc. was booked and posted $10,000 bond before being released. The San Jose resident also surrendered his passport.

The Douglas County District Attorney's Office and the state attorney general filed seven felony and seven misdemeanor charges against Gonzalez on Feb. 28 and March 1 in connection with a fatal blast Sept. 17 at the DTI plant outside Minden.

The Attorney General's office filed charges against Gonzalez for allegedly not having worker's compensation insurance for four men who were injured and one man who was killed by the explosion.

The men's injuries had cost the state's uninsured workers' fund about $500,000 through mid-January. The total will likely exceed $1 million.

Jamie Gonzales, 34, no relation to Walter Gonzalez, died Sept. 26 after the explosion.

The fire, which took seven hours to extinguish, blew off the building's roof and severely injured four members of Gonzales' family, including Susano Lopez, Raul Gonzales, Elias San Juan and Cecelio San Juan.

The Douglas County District Attorney's Office filed two felonies against Gonzalez for performance of an act or neglect of duty in willful or wanton disregard of safety or persons or property.

A report written by East Fork Fire Capt. Terry Taylor said DTI employees told him they were manually recycling aerosol cans with a spike and mallet before the explosion.

Raul Gonzales was outside DTI's metal cargo container waiting for Elias San Juan to bring the forklift to empty a tub into which aerosol products were being dumped, according to court papers.

Cecelio San Juan, Jaime Gonzales and Susano Lopez were inside the metal cargo container.

Susano Lopez saw Elias San Juan climbing onto the forklift and turning the key at the time of the explosion. San Juan was going to drive a forklift to empty a tub where the aerosol containers were dumped.

The forklift was not approved for operating in a hazardous atmosphere, Taylor wrote.

Taylor's report claims DTI's ventilation system was improper, and the employees "were literally saturated in explosive gas."

DTI has been fined $144,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement Section.

Also, seven misdemeanors were charged: failure to provide an approved ventilation and exhaust system; failure to provide dilution below 25 percent of lower explosive limit for flammable gases in work area; failure to provide a hood or exhaust system which would be sufficient to dilute explosive vapors; failure to provide means to prevent accumulation of static electricity charge; failure to prove a hazardous materials management plan; failure to provide electrical equipment and wiring that is explosion-proof; and failure to furnish employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.


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