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Xcel Energy Found Not Guilty of Workers’ Deaths

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Scales of Justice or The Long Arm of the Law?
Nearly three days after it began deliberating, a Denver jury has found public utility Xcel Energy and its subsidiary, Public Service Co. of Colorado, not guilty of criminal charges in the 2007 deaths of five workers. The jury delivered its verdict — not guilty of five counts of violating federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration regulations (including not having a rescue plan) and causing deaths — on Tuesday, June 28.

Five workers died of smoke inhalation when a fire trapped them inside a water tunnel they were relining at the Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant on October 2, 2007. The smoke was generated when a flammable industrial solvent they were using to clean an epoxy paint sprayer caught fire. The plant is near Georgetown, Colorado, about 40 miles west of Denver.

During the 16-day trial in U.S. District Court, prosecutors had said the company knew of workplace violations. The defense said the violations were due to Excel contractor RPI Coating of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., which didn’t heed regulations. RPI, which employed the workers, is set to stand trial later this year on the same charge. RPI said what happened was a tragic accident.

As Wayne Harrison, Web Editor of for ABC7News, writes:

After the verdict was announced, U.S. Attorney John Walsh said it was important to prosecute the case.

‘Today the jury has spoken, finding Xcel Energy and Public Service Company not guilty of criminal violations of certain OSHA safety regulations. We believe that this was an important case to prosecute, as it involved the loss of five lives. That said, we respect the jury’s verdict,’ he said.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the following statement regarding the verdict:

‘We extend our sympathies to the families of the five men who lost their lives at the Cabin Creek Hydroelectric Plant,’ said Greg Baxter, OSHA regional administrator in Denver. ‘While we are disappointed in today’s verdict, we are pleased that a jury had the opportunity to deliberate over this tragic event. The message we hope is taken from this hearing is that we believe no one should be required to sacrifice their life for a day’s pay. Despite today’s verdict, we do intend to take appropriate action against any employer willing to compromise workers’ safety and health just to get the job done.’

Image by Gerry Dincher, used under its Creative Commons license.


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