An eight-day trial in Billings, Montana last month ended with guilty verdicts against a trucking company and its CEO stemming from a 2012 explosion at an oil and gas processing facility in Wibaux, Mont., that seriously injured three workers.
Defendants Woody’s Trucking, LLC and Donald E. Wood Jr. were convicted on 13 of the 14 charges against them, which included conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice.
How it happened
On December 29, 2012, a driver for Woody's Trucking, loaded natural gas condensate, or "drip gas," from a pipeline station that transports products from the Bakken oil fields in Montana and North Dakota. The drip gas was hauled from Watford City, North Dakota, to Custom Carbon Processing, Inc. (CCP). CCP is a slop-oil processing/recycling company based near Wibaux, Montana. The bill of lading that accompanied the shipment identified the product as "slop oil and water," which is a non-hazardous substance. However, while the driver was pumping from the truck’s front tank into the CCP facility, a fire ignited, injuring three employees. The tanks on the truck burned for eight days until the local fire department could determine that they held drip gas and not slop oil and water, as indicated on the bill of lading. Drip gas is a hazardous material and the truck was not placarded to indicate it held a flammable liquid. Three employees were seriously injured in the explosion.
Witnesses at trial testified that the CEO of the company, Donald Wood, Jr., directed the driver to place a falsified Bill of Lading in the burned out truck several days after the explosion. The reason was to cover up the fact that the company was hauling drip gas without placards. Furthermore, the company had no insurance coverage for hauling drip gas.
Sometime after the explosion, the employees of the burned facility sued Woody’s Trucking, the owners of the CCP facility and others for negligence in a civil action. Woody’s submitted the lawsuit to their insurance company for payment of costs, attorney fees and payment of the eventual settlements to the injured workers. The insurance company agreed to settle the claims, but always maintained that there was no coverage for hauling drip gas.
False statements, misidentified hazmat
Criminal charges were upheld against the defendants for making false statements to OSHA inspectors in an effort to conceal that flammable natural gas condensate being transported by truck was deliberately misidentified as a nonhazardous material. Testimony provided by OSHA inspectors and scientists during the trial played an important role in securing convictions on 13 of 14 felony charges. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency also participated in the investigation.
The one count of acquittal related to one of the placarding violations. Forfeiture in the case amounts to $644,689.70.
U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme stated, “I want to thank the prosecution team and the representatives from the DOT and EPA that coordinated on this important investigation. Mislabeling and submitting false documents to conceal the presence of explosive material on public highways are serious criminal matters that will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As this case demonstrates, the failure to properly disclose and label hazardous materials can endanger lives.”
Little regard for safety
“The defendants in this case tried to cover up safety violations by providing falsified documents to first responders, showing little regard for the safety of first responders, public health, or environmental damage,” said Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s guilty verdict shows that EPA, our law enforcement partners, and the jury agree that those who choose to disregard laws designed to keep our communities safe from chemical accidents should be held accountable for their actions.”
The jury deliberated for 3 hours before finding both defendants guilty of 13 of 14 counts.
The case was tried by AUSA Adam Duerk and SAUSA Eric Nelson of the EPA. The United States’ Attorney’s Office conducted this investigation with the Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division as well as the Department of Transportation.