Painting Company Pleads Guilty In Fire Deaths

RPI Coating Pleads Guilty; Xcel Energy Found Not Guilty On Criminal Charges

A California specialty painting company pleaded guilty Monday in the 2007 deaths of five workers at a Colorado power plant.

RPI Coatings Inc. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of workplace safety violations resulting in death.

RPI has agreed to pay $1.65 million in penalties and compensation, most of which will go to the families of the victims. They are also responsible to comply with the terms of probation or face an additional $2.5 million fine.

As part of their five-year probation they have agreed to make changes to their safety practices. The U.S. Probation Department will monitor the company to ensure these changes are made.

"On Oct. 2, 2007, five men went to work, putting their safety and well being in the hands of their employer, RPI Coating. RPI Coating had been awarded a contract by Xcel Energy to recoat a penstock at the Cabin Creek Hydroelectric Plant near Georgetown, Colo. That day turned out to be the last day of those five men's lives. Because of systemic failures and willful OSHA violations on the part of RPI, a fire broke out inside the penstock. The fire trapped the men, blocking their escape route. The men did not have the proper emergency equipment or emergency personnel to extricate the men from the pipe. The men were working almost ¼ of a mile from the entrance to the pipe. They waited for over 3 hours for a rescue, but they ultimately died of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke asphyxiation," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release.

"Today RPI is taking responsibility for these brave men's deaths by pleading guilty to five counts of violating OSHA regulations resulting in death."

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.

Killed were Donald Dejaynes, 43, Dupree Holt, 37, James St. Peters, 52, Gary Foster, 48, and Anthony Aguirre, 18, all of California.

In June, a jury found Xcel Energy Inc. and its subsidiary, Public Service Co. of Colorado, not guilty of five counts of violating federal safety regulations, including not having a rescue plan.

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