Minden plant owner didn't reveal blast to Kansas officials

RENO -- The owner of a Minden aerosol can recycling plant where an explosion killed one man and burned four others didn't tell Kansas officials of the blast when he applied to start a similar business there, the owner and officials said.

El Dorado, Kan., commissioners approved zoning Monday for Aerosol Recycling Services Inc. in an industrial area of the town 35 miles northeast of Wichita, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

City officials had worked about four months on the process with Walter Gonzalez, who owned the Depressurized Technologies International Inc. plant in Minden and whose daughter heads Aerosol Recycling Services Inc.

El Dorado officials found out about the link between the firms on Wednesday and called Gonzalez to confirm it.

"We were not aware that he had a problem in Nevada," Larry Powell, Butler County (Kan.) Economic Development director, told the newspaper.

"The only firm we were aware of was the one in California, where, when we checked with California, he never had a problem.

"It's hard to do business with someone who doesn't give you all the facts about the company," Powell said.

Gonzalez, now a Bay area employee of General Electric, said Thursday that Aerosol Recycling Services is a separate business. He said he met once with El Dorado officials, and told them he had done recycling before.

"If it's a separate legal entity that is doing the operation, then I don't think DTI has anything to do with the new legal entity," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez pleaded no contest to two felony counts stemming from the Sept. 17, 2001, blast that killed Jaime Gonzalez, 34 , and left four others with serious burns. Douglas District Judge Michael Gibbons last October sentenced Gonzalez to 10 years probation and ordered him to pay restitution for the worker's injuries that could reach $2 million.

Gonzalez had moved the business from California about five months before the blast but has sold the Minden building.

Gonzalez said he was considering Kansas because of its transportation routes to the East Coast.

He said he also plans to open a new plant in Hawthorne to remove aerosol from metal cans and believes new technology will be explosion proof.

"We are in the process of starting up, probably by next year," Gonzalez said.

His lawyer, Noel Manoukian, said Gonzalez needs to start another recycling business to pay restitution to the state, currently taking 10 percent of his General Electric salary.

Manoukian downplayed the reaction of Kansas officials.

"It's premature because no real effort has been made by DTI or Walter to consider opening there because we've got to get Nevada authority first, as far as I'm concerned, to get a fresh start," Manoukian said.


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