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Jury's Deadlock Favors Firms in Refinery Worker's Burn Case

September 13, 1985|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Municipal Court jury deadlocked Thursday in an industrial accident case involving a refinery worker who suffered severe burns in 1983.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Fred Macksoud, the prosecutor, said the office will "probably not" seek a new trial, because jurors split 11 to 1 in favor of innocent verdicts for both Robert Ray, the former president of Plant Operations Inc., and Calvin Barnes, plant manager for Champlin Petroleum Co.

A decision on dismissal will be announced before Municipal Judge Michael E. Pastor today.

Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner has launched a highly publicized campaign to crack down on corporations involved in industrial accidents. In one of its first prosecutions, Reiner's office charged Champlin, a unit of Union Pacific Corp., and six other defendants with nine counts of violating state safety orders.

Florenzio Perez, a maintenance worker, suffered second- and third-degree burns over more than 70% of his body when he opened a valve at the Wilmington refinery and was scalded by oil heated to 950 degrees. The 40-year-old Lakewood man testified that the valve was not labeled but also acknowledged that he had not checked whether it was hot before opening it.

In the other accident, employee Robbie Matthews suffered several broken bones when four tons of coke, residue from the refining process, knocked him off a crusher car.

As the trial proceeded, charges against both Champlin and Plant Operations, which operated the refinery's coking units, were dismissed because the firms were not the workers' employers.

Meanwhile, defendant American Plant Services Inc., which employed the two injured workers, pleaded no contest to two counts, which carry a maximum fine of $15,000. In exchange, the prosecution agreed to dismiss charges against two of the firm's officials.

Jurors, who split 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal, said Thursday that they felt sympathy for the injured employees, but they added that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to hold the defendants criminally liable.

Attorney Charles Theodore Mathews, who represented Plant Operations, called it "a tremendous victory" and blasted Reiner, saying the case was filed only "for headlines, so Ira Reiner can say he is tough on corporate crime."

Macksoud said the outcome of the case--which initially had been filed as a municipal offense while Reiner was still Los Angeles city attorney--should have no impact on Reiner's get-tough policy.

"You look at each case individually on its merits," Macksoud said.

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