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Closing Arguments Expected Today in Xcel Energy Case

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Scales of Justice, for workplace violation criminal caseClosing arguments are expected today in the criminal trial of Xcel Energy over the deaths of five Colorado hydroelectric plant workers, Donald Dejaynes, 43, Dupree Holt, 37, James St. Peters, 52, Gary Foster, 48, and Anthony Aguirre, 18. The men died of smoke inhalation when a fire trapped them inside a water tunnel at the Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant in October 2007 near Georgetown, Colorado, about 40 miles west of Denver. The smoke was generated by an industrial solvent that caught fire.

Prosecutors, who rested their case last week, say the company knew of workplace violations. The defense says the violations were due to a contractor who didn’t heed regulations, and were an accident. The prosecutor said Xcel had chosen as the contractor RPI Coatings Inc., which was the lowest bidder vying for the job. He detailed RPI’s safety deficiencies and said that, although the contractor’s work was not up to Xcel’s safety standards, RPI got the job because of its low bid.

As George Williams writes in his exemplary post on this blog:

Sheila V. Kumar, a reporter for BusinessWeek, notes some disquieting allegations being made in the case:

[Defense attorney Clifford] Stricklin challenged [federal prosecutor Jaime] Pena’s allegations that RPI got the contract because they had the lowest budget, saying the other bidder considered for the job had proposed dangerous equipment and had had a recent employee death.

Stricklin went on to assert that RPI has destroyed evidence, such as cell phones, cameras, and daily safety briefing sheets that would prove the innocence of the defendants.

‘RPI has deprived the (Public Service Company of Colorado) of the ability to prove … their innocence,’ Stricklin said.

Attorneys were arguing over jury instructions Tuesday, June 21, in federal court in Denver. Closing arguments had also been expected but have now been scheduled for Thursday, June 23, because the process is taking so long.

Minneapolis-based Xcel and a subsidiary, Public Service Company of Colorado, face five counts of violating federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. If convicted, each company would have to pay fines up to $2.5 million.

Image by mikecogh (Michael Coghlan), used under its Creative Commons license.

 

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