More suits filed in fatal Rouse explosion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

[1/7/03]Lawsuits have been filed on behalf of two more men, one of them injured in and the other who died after the May 16 explosion and fire at Rouse Polymerics International’s rubber processing plant in south Vicksburg.

The cases alleging negligence and other claims were filed on behalf of Alfred Harrison and George Stewart.

Harrison, who was a 42-year-old Tallulah resident, died six days after being injured at the plant on U.S. 61 South. He was one of a total of five who perished in Vicksburg’s worst-ever industrial accident.

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Stewart, 33, of Fayette, was burned over about half of his body, according to reports at the time from the medical staff at The Burn Center at Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville. He spent about two months in the specialized intensive-care unit before being released.

Two cases were filed in Harrison’s name, one by his widow, Rosie Harrison, and one by one of his five children, Yolanda Jackson. The cases are in Hinds and Warren county courts, filed respectively by attorneys Bob Owens of Jackson and Blake Teller of Vicksburg, but Mississippi law allows only one wrongful death case. Teller said the principal attorney in the case filed in Jackson’s name was Scott Andrews of Baton Rouge, who did not return a phone call to his office.

Rosie Harrison’s complaint names only one defendant, a maintenance vendor of Rouse, but indicates other defendants may be named.

Stewart’s complaint, filed by him and his wife, Hattie Fay Stewart, names six defendants: the same maintenance vendor as does the first Harrison complaint, two of that vendor’s officers individually, and three manufacturers of equipment used by Rouse.

It was filed by attorney Robert F. Wilkins of Jackson. No damage amounts are specified in any of the three suits.

Among Stewart’s charges are that the defendants were aware that Rouse’s recycling process, which involves drying ground rubber dust at high heat, “operated in and around rubber dust and natural gas, which are known to be volatile, flammable and explosive substances.”

The cases bring to at least four the number of court actions in the aftermath of the explosion and fire for which 12 people received medical treatment. Cases were filed earlier in Warren County Circuit Court by family members of Teddy Smith, who was 40, and Roy Deaton, who was 50, who died.

The case filed in Smith’s name, by Vicksburg attorney Paul Kelly Loyacono, asked for $65 million in damages. The suit in Deaton’s name, filed by attorney Guy N. Rogers of Pearl, did not specify damages.

Local, state and federal investigations into the cause of the explosions began soon after the fire. The plant was essentially idle for about six months while the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted its investigation which, company principal Michael Rouse has said, did not identify any defect as having caused the explosion.

OSHA did find the company had committed two willful and 22 serious safety violations and proposed $210,600 in fines. Nine days later, a compromise was announced, with OSHA removing the willful characterizations and reducing the penalty to $187,680.

Rouse has said he intends to rebuild on the company’s current site. Production was to increase in the past several weeks in the part of the plant that remained operable and, by this month, removal of the burned building and construction of a new facility were to be complete.