Business

Tuesday, Dec 04 2012 07:00 PM

Composting facility where brothers died files claim against county

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The Lamont-area composting facility where two brothers died in an industrial accident last year has filed a claim for damages with Kern County over the Board of Supervisors' attempt to shut down and fine the facility.

The action by Community Recycling & Resource Recovery Inc. is likely a precursor to lawsuit. It accuses the board of unfairly denying the company a right to operate.

The case stems from an accident that occurred at Community Recycling on Oct. 12, 2011. Armando Ramirez, a 16-year-old employee of the company, died while cleaning out a drainage shaft at the facility. His 22-year-old brother, Heladio, alternatively spelled as Eladio in some official documents, went down to rescue Armando but was overcome as well; he was rendered brain dead and days later was removed from life support.

State officials believe the brothers died from inhaling the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide, a common byproduct of the composting process.

In March, Cal-OSHA issued Community Recycling 13 citations totaling $166,890. They accuse the company of neglecting to set up safety procedures that could have saved the brothers' lives. Community Recycling has appealed the citations.

Separately, Cal-OSHA has opened a criminal investigation against the company over the matter. Depending on what comes of the investigation, agency spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said Tuesday, Cal-OSHA could recommend that the county District Attorney's Office file charges.

"There's no ETA (estimated time of arrival) given at this point," she said.

The Board of Supervisors, in an emotionally charged hearing Nov. 15, 2011, voted unanimously to shut down the company and fine it a total of $2.3 million over what county officials said was a pattern of land-use violations dating back several years.

Community Recycling responded by filing a lawsuit against the county, essentially appealing the board's fines and closure order. The judge in the case issued an injunction that allowed the company to continue operating pending a court trial, which is scheduled to begin in Kern County Superior Court on March 19.

Separately, the mother of the brothers has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Community Recycling on behalf of the older brother. Kern County Superior Court records show that no trial date has been set for that case.

In papers filed with the county Nov. 14, Community Recycling's lawyers individually named all five supervisors, as well as two county staff members, in a 14-page damages claim that looks and reads like a civil lawsuit.

The papers, which do not state what size damages the company seeks, say the county's actions were "desperate, arbitrary, capricious, irrational, unreasonable and constituted a prejudicial abuse of discretion." They claim the county fined Community Recycling and ordered its closure based on incorrect information and that the company was denied its right of due process.

A deputy counsel for the county who has worked on the case could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A lawyer for Community Recycling said the company had no comment on the damages claim.

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