Orange County District Attorney
Press Release, For Immediate Release: July 12, 2012
Contacts: Susan Kang Schroeder, Chief of Staff, Office: 714-347-8408, Cell: 714-292-2718
Farrah Emami, Spokesperson, Office: 714-347-8405, Cell: 714-323-4486
*Complaint charges in foreseeable and avoidable water heater explosion killed two employees and injured third
SANTA ANA – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) has filed a civil suit against a plastics manufacturing corporation for knowingly operating an unsafe work environment, which resulted in the death of two employees. The case against Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC, Emerson Power Transmission Corporation, and Emerson Electric was filed July 6, 2012, and the defendants were served July 10, 2012, and today, July 12, 2012. Two other defendants are also subject to a related criminal case (Case #12CF0698).
Beginning in 2007, the defendants are accused of operating a plastics manufacturing plant in Rancho Santa Margarita. They are accused of willfully, knowingly, and intentionally maintaining an unsafe and hazardous work environment for their employees.
When the business relocated certain operations from Pennsylvania to Orange County in 2007, the defendants are accused of intentionally discarding a commercial boiler to avoid the cost and permitting requirements of proper installation. The defendants are accused of instead purchasing and installing an inexpensive residential water heater, knowing that it was not equipped to function at a commercial level. When the residential water heater was unable to heat to the necessary levels for plastic melting, the defendants are accused of, among other things, removing the automatic safety shut-off protection and installing a new temperature control device to force the heater to work at dangerous levels above its capacity. The residential water heater frequently showed signs of distress, including leaking and a blown safety valve.
The water heater exploded on March 19, 2009. Two employees, Jose Jimenez and Isidro Echeverria, were instantly killed in the explosion. One of the victims was decapitated from the force of the blast. A third employee was injured. The explosion blew through the roof and destroyed the building. The defendants never re-opened the business in Orange County. The complaint charges recklessness and willful disregard for employee safety by the defendants.
California labor codes require all California employers to provide a place of employment that is “safe and healthful for employees” and to do everything “reasonably necessary to protect the life, safety, and health of employees” at all times. The civil case filed by the OCDA seeks to enjoin the defendants from operating unsafe work environments in violation of California law. The case also seeks civil penalties and restitution in an amount to be determined at trial.
This case was referred to the OCDA by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Anyone with additional information regarding this case or any former employees of the defendants are asked to call Supervising District Attorney Investigator Rick Morton at (949) 975-8127.
Deputy District Attorney Kelly Roosevelt of the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit is prosecuting this case.