On Rouse anniversary, it’s more than memories|[5/17/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Three years after Vicksburg’s worst industrial accident in memory, some damage claims have been resolved, some lawsuits remain pending and the time limit for filing claims is believed to have expired.

The accident – a fire and explosion at Rouse Polymerics on U.S. 61 South in Vicksburg – occurred May 16, 2002, while the plant was in operation. Twelve employees were burned, and five of them died during the following two weeks.

They were Tywayne Croskey, 24, of Port Gibson; John Davenport, 27, of Vicksburg; Roy Deaton, 50, of Vicksburg; Alfred Harrison, 42, of Tallulah; and Teddy Smith, 40, of Vicksburg.

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Six lawsuits were filed from July until December 2002 on behalf of those killed, and at least one suit has been filed in each case.

Today, suits are on file in or have been transferred to courts including the circuit courts of Warren, Hinds and Jefferson counties and the U.S. District Court for Mississippi’s Southern District, based in Jackson.

Each suit alleges negligence and names about 10 to 20 defendants, including corporations and partnerships in the name of Rouse and other vendors who supplied equipment used at the plant. Lists of defendants differ from case to case.

Vicksburg attorney Paul Kelly Loyacono represents family members of Smith. Jackson attorneys Bob Owens and Robert Wilkins are among others who have represented or are representing at least some of the other family members.

Loyacono filed his original lawsuit in December 2002, naming 18 defendants. He filed an additional complaint in May, naming seven of the same defendants and eight others.

The 11 defendants named in the original complaint but not in the more recent one have either been dismissed by the court or have reached settlements in the case, Loyacono said.

Ultimately, since settlements are private and court orders seal them or don’t disclose terms, a list of who paid what to whom cannot be known.

At least one case each has been assigned to judges David Bramlette of U.S. District Court, Frank Vollor of Warren County Circuit Court and Johnny Price of Warren County Court.

Loyacono said the attorneys for the victims’ families have conferred with each other and that he expects the cases will eventually be consolidated into one, even though their lists of defendants may not match each other. As the senior judge of his court, Vollor would decide whether and when that will happen, Loyacono added.

A May 10, 2004, trial date had been set by Vollor in the case assigned to him but a trial in that case was postponed indefinitely. No trial dates are currently set in any of the cases, Loyacono said.

On Friday, three days before the three-year anniversary of the accident, an additional plaintiff, identifying itself as an insurer of Rouse’s property, filed a claim against four defendants that have also been sued by victims’ survivors.

Royal Indemnity Company of Charlotte, N.C., named four companies it identifies as Rouse vendors and asks for $10 million from them. Royal says the explosion and fire caused more than $10 million in damage to Rouse’s property and that it has made payments to Rouse.

Rouse has also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Jackson federal court.

“We’ve filed a motion requesting that the court allow us to purchase a new facility,” said Rouse’s attorney in the bankruptcy, J. Walter Newman of Jackson.

Calls Monday to the phone number listed for Rouse reached a recording indicating service there had been disconnected.

Rouse ground and dried scrap rubber into dust that can be used for new tires and other products.

Following the explosion, Rouse Polymerics was investigated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After about six months, OSHA found that the company had violated safety regulations and, after a compromise, levied a fine of $187,680.

The company’s president, Michael Rouse, said it built a state-of-the-art facility that was smaller than the one it replaced and opened after OSHA completed its investigation.