Thursday, 4:30 PM
New York glue company facing manslaughter charge in Big Dig tunnel tragedy
The Globe's Sean Murphy talks about the indictment. (NECN video)
By Scott Allen and Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff
A grand jury has handed up a manslaughter charge against one of the companies involved in the construction of the Big Dig tunnel ceiling that collapsed last summer, killing a 38-year-old Jamaica Plain woman.
Powers Fasteners Inc. of Brewster, N.Y., was indicted today on a single count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Milena Del Valle, Attorney General Martha Coakley said at a news conference.
The investigation is continuing, Coakley repeatedly said, noting that no individual has been charged "as of yet."
"I wonít be satisfied until there's a conviction in this case. There's a lot of work to be done. Thereís a lot of threads to be followed but, yes, weíre pleased to be making progress," Coakley said.
The maximum penalty the company could face is a $1,000 fine. "For this particular charge, it does not seem to be even close to an appropriate punishment," Coakley said.
Asked if the investigation was worth the effort when the penalty was so light, she said it would be "up to the public to judge." She also said she hoped the prosecution would have a deterrent effect, preventing similar incidents in the future.
The company provided the epoxy used to secure bolts that construction workers used to suspend the concrete ceiling from the tunnel roof.
A National Transportation Safety Board report last month found that workers mistakenly used a fast-drying form of the epoxy to secure the bolts. The epoxy did not have the long-term strength needed to hold up the ceiling. The board faulted Powers for failing to make clear on all its packaging that the fast-set epoxy was unsafe for long-term loads.
The NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the company last week, calling for it to revise the packaging on its fast-drying epoxy to state explicitly that it was approved for "short-term loads" only.
"We are stunned, beyond belief," Jeffrey Powers, president of Powers Fasteners, said in a statement. "The only reason that our company has been indicted is that unlike others implicated in this tragedy, we donít have enough money to buy our way out."
Powers said that the company had filled a special order for a different epoxy for the ceiling and didnít know that the wrong epoxy was being used.
"At no time did anyone ever tell Powers, and Powers never had reason to believe Ė that its Fast Set product was used in the tunnel ceiling," he said.
In 1999, several of the anchors holding the ceiling up were found to be pulling out. Powers sent representatives to the site to help identify the source of the problem. Paul Ware, the special assistant attorney general who headed the investigation, said Powers was "more than a little asleep at the switch" when it didnít identify the epoxy problem.
"They were on site. They made firsthand observations. They were asked whatís wrong here? And the evidence will show they didnít give a reasonable answer," he said.
Powers is a privately held 275-employee firm with estimated revenues of $40 million. Federal safety investigators were frustrated during their investigation because Powers officials declined to cooperate with them.
Del Valle was killed at about 11 p.m. July 10, 2006, when she and her husband were driving eastbound in the tunnel, on their way to Logan International Airport. As the car approached the end of the tunnel, a section of the ceiling became detached and fell onto the vehicle. A total of about 26 tons of concrete and associated suspension hardware fell.