A Denver jury has found Xcel Energy Inc. not guilty of criminal charges in the deaths of five workers at a hydroelectric plant tunnel in the mountains west of Denver.
The jury found Minneapolis-based Xcel and its subsidiary, Public Service Co. of Colorado not guilty of five counts of violating federal safety regulations, including not having a rescue plan. The verdict came Tuesday afternoon after nearly three days of deliberation.
Killed were Donald Dejaynes, 43, Dupree Holt, 37, James St. Peters, 52, Gary Foster, 48, and Anthony Aguirre, 18, all of California.
The workers were trapped in the Cabin Creek generating plant tunnel south of Georgetown, about 40 miles west of Denver, when a flammable solvent they were using to clean an epoxy paint sprayer ignited Oct. 2, 2007.
Rescuers tried lowering air tanks to the trapped workers who were more than 1,000 feet into the tunnel, but the workers were overcome by smoke and fumes from the fire 2,000 feet below them in the 4-foot-wide tunnel.
Xcel said a contractor that employed the workers was responsible for their safety.
Dupree Holt's widow, Gladys Holt, said she was disappointed and plans to return when contractor RPI Coatings Inc. stands trial. RPI and two of its executives have been charged in federal court. A trial date hasn't been set.
After Tuesday's 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 Labors 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 todays verdict, we do intend to take appropriate action against any employer willing to compromise workers' safety and health just to get the job done."
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