SAN JOSE — A 70-year-old diabetic whose feet were amputated has been jailed while his factory is shut down for heavy leakage of toxic pollutants.
Ernest Leroy Lorentz Jr. was awaiting sentencing Friday for repeated violations of state hazardous waste laws at the Lorentz Barrel and Drum Co. plant near San Jose State University.
Santa Clara Municipal Judge Stephen Manley ordered Lorentz to jail Thursday after investigators discovered last week that 359 hazardous waste barrels had been at the drum recycling plant for more than 90 days, in violation of state law.
Some of the barrels were found to be leaking.
"I'll be damned if I'll move something now," the ailing Lorentz said of the barrels still on the site as he was led away from the courtroom by Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies. "Let the state do it."
Lorentz's plant is on the state Superfund list of the worst toxic sites and it has been proposed for the national Superfund list. "An alphabet soup of toxic materials" has contaminated soil and water at the 5 1/2-acre plant, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Jerry Nadler.
A consultant reported earlier this year that toxic seepage from the site endangers the groundwater supply of an estimated 200,000 local residents.
Lorentz, who pleaded guilty last month to 10 misdemeanor pollution violations, faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in jail and a $10-million fine when he returns to court next Wednesday.
Both of his feet have been amputated due to complications from diabetes, and Lorentz suffered a minor stroke last Saturday.
"It's a sad case. This man has no money, he's in terrible physical shape, plus he apparently has an invalid wife," Nadler said.
"But he's done unbelievable damage to the environment of San Jose. Who knows what kind of damage he's done to the future health of the people who live here?"
Lorentz's attorney, Harrett Mannina Sr., did not post the required $200,000 bond to get his client released until his sentencing. Mannina failed to convince the judge to accept the plant site as a security bond.
Mannina said jailing Lorentz was "overkill," and he said he would try to file the proper papers to have the plant site declared as a security bond so that Lorentz can go free.