The president of the company that provided the epoxy used in the ceiling panels that collapsed in the Big Dig last year says he is "stunned" at its criminal indictment.
After a 13-month investigation, Attorney General Martha Coakley yesterday announced a Suffolk County grand jury had indicted Powers Fasteners Inc. on one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Milena Del Valle. WBUR's Fred Thys reports.SEE LINKS TO RELATED DOCUMENTS BELOW.
TEXT OF STORY:
FRED THYS: This is the first indictment returned against anyone for the death of Milena Del Valle. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded last month that the ceiling panels collapsed because the wrong kind of epoxy was used. Powers Fasteners, which supplied the epoxy, sells a standard epoxy that would have held up, but instead, its fast-setting epoxy was used. Special Assistant Attorney General Paul Ware, who is leading the investigation for Attorney-General Martha Coakley, said at yesterday's press conference that Powers was indicted because the company knew that its fast-setting epoxy was inadequate to hold up large loads for long periods of time.
PAUL WARE: And Powers was called to the tunnel, reviewed the anchor bolts. They had the opportunity to raise the distinction between these products and to raise the red flag at that time, which might have altered the course of events. They did not do so.
THYS: A statement released by Coakley's office says Powers knew that the wrong epoxy was being used in the I-90 Connector tunnel. Powers has said that it was under the impression that the right epoxy was being used because it received a special order for the proper epoxy shortly before the ceiling panels were first installed. But a letter from the NTSB to Powers dated last Friday contradicts the company and supports Coakley's allegations. In the letter, NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker says the only epoxy that Powers was selling to the contractor during the installation of the ceiling panels was the fast-setting epoxy. The NTSB says the special order for the right epoxy that Powers received was for use on unspecified projects. It says that Powers was aware that the contractor, Modern Continental, was using the wrong epoxy, but Powers but never told the contractor.
Powers has said that officials at the Massachusetts Highway Department were aware that there was a problem with fast-setting epoxy, but yesterday, Coakley said her investigators don't believe that state officials knew there was a problem.
If Powers is convicted, the company is liable only for a one-thousand-dollar fine. Coakley conceded yesterday that the punishment would be meager.
MARTHA COAKLEY: Corporations don't go to jail. Corporations are paper entities. There is no one individual charged as of yet. There is no one in this indictment that's charged.
THYS: In a statement, Jeffrey Powers, the president of the company, said:
"The only reason that our company has been indicted is that unlike others implicated in this tragedy, we don't have enough money to buy our way out."
The statement seems to imply that indicting one company would make it easier to negotiate a settlement with other companies with deeper pockets. The Boston Globe recently reported that Coakley is negotiating a billion-dollar settlement with Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project manager, in exchange for dropping all charges against the company. Coakley refused to say yesterday whether she is involved in any negotiations. She did point out that if a company is convicted, it would make it easier for state officials to bar it from getting any state contracts, and she says it would make a civil case to recover damages easier.
Jeffrey Denner, the attorney for Angel Del Valle, Milena's widower, welcomed the indictment.
JEFFREY DENNER: I think it's a serious step forward to establish accountability for the people involved in this matter.
THYS: One of the attorneys for the children of Milena Del Valle, Brad Henry, says the family is appreciative of Coakley for following through with her investigation.
BRAD HENRY: for, we think, bravely going ahead with an indictment against a corporation, which is not a common act, and the family is confident, as Martha Coakley says, that this is the first step in a series of steps to hold those responsible for Milena Del Valle's death accountable.
THYS: Henry says based on what he's seen so far in the family's lawsuit, Coakley has an extremely strong case. Coakley would not say if there will be further indictments, but she says her investigation continues.
This program aired on August 9, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.