Two owners of a railcar cleaning company face prison time in connection with environmental and worker safety violations related to two workers’ deaths in 2015.
A grand injury in Omaha, NE, returned a 22-count indictment of Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services LLC (NRCS) and its two owners, Steven Braithwaite and Adam Braithwaite. The owners and company are charged with conspiracy, violating worker safety standards resulting in employee deaths, violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and submitting false documents to a federal agency (OSHA). Adam Braithwaite was also charged with perjury.
The owners face 20 years or more in prison for the alleged crimes.
The indictment says the Braithwaites and NRCS failed to implement worker safety standards and then tried to cover that up during an OSHA inspection. The indictment also claims the defendants mishandled hazardous waste removed from rail tanker cars during the cleaning process.
OSHA issued 42 violations to NRCS for a total of $963,000 in fines. The company contested the violations.
The indictment alleges that after an inspection of NRCS, Steve Braithwaite entered into a written agreement that the company had been testing for benzene since July 2014. OSHA returned to NRCS in March 2015 to conduct a follow-up inspection and was turned away by Steve Braithwaite. The owners then allegedly created documents that were submitted to OSHA to falsely show NRCS had been purchasing equipment to test the contents of the railcars for benzene.
On April 14, 2015, the contents of a railcar ignited while being cleaned by NRCS employees.
Dallas Foulk, 40, was climbing a ladder out of the car when the explosion hurled him into the air. He died soon after paramedics took him to the hospital.
Adrian LaPour, 44, was killed inside the burning tanker.
A third worker was injured.
Two days after the explosion, NRCS had three railcars tested to assess whether their contents were hazardous – two were.
OSHA regulations require the air in confined spaces such as tanker cars be tested for gases including flammable and explosive ones before workers are allowed to enter.
“Today’s indictment shows that the Department of Justice will prosecute those who knowingly seek to thwart federal laws that protect the safety of American workers,” said Jeffrey Wood, Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.