Arizona: Former Sewer Company President Must Teach Safety Classes

A former Arizona company president convicted of negligent homicide in connection with the deaths of two workers was sentenced to 7 years' probation and 840 hours of community service, all of which must be spent teaching safety classes.

Brent Weidman, former president of Far West Water & Sewer Inc. in Yuma, Ariz., was facing up to 3 3/4 years in prison after a Yuma County jury in June found Weidman guilty of two counts of negligent homicide and two counts of reckless endangerment. State prosecutors contended Weidman allowed safety lapses that led to the 2001 deaths of two workers and the injury of a third.

Yuma County Superior Court Judge Andrew Gould on Aug. 11 opted for 7 years' probation and 840 hours of community service with a catch. To fulfill his community service requirement, Weidman must teach safety classes.

"That was really the point of pursuing criminal charges against him," Andrea Esquer, press secretary for Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, told Occupationalhazards.com. "We think [safety training] was one thing that was really needed to help these workers avoid this incident."

A Yuma County jury last October found Far West guilty of negligent homicide; knowing violation of a safety standard causing the death of an employee; aggravated assault; and two counts of endangerment.

The five felony convictions cost Far West $1.77 million in criminal fines.

State: Far West Did Not Conduct Atmospheric Testing

James Gamble, an employee of Far West, and Gary Lanser, an employee of a Far West contractor, died on Oct. 24, 2001, in a sewer tank near Mesa del Sol Golf Course in Yuma.

Gamble entered the sewer tank to remove a plug that was blocking sewage while Connie Charles, a Far West foreperson, turned on a pump running sewage into the tank through another line, according to authorities.

Gamble inhaled sewage gas and immediately collapsed into the tank. Nathan Garrett, Lanser and then Charles entered the tank to attempt a rescue. All three were overcome by sewage gas.

Lanser died and Garrett suffered damage to his lungs.

The state says its investigation revealed air in the sewer tank had not been tested during the day of the incident, workers were not properly trained on procedures to enter the sewage tanks and rescue procedures were not followed.

OSHA in 2001 issued six serious citations and $42,000 fines to Far West Water & Sewer for violations of 29 CFR 1910.146, the Permit-Required Confined Spaces standard. After a formal settlement between the agency and Far West, the fines were reduced to $31,500.

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