The former president of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) has been sentenced to prison for occupational safety crimes that resulted in the death of an employee. Matthew Lawrence Bowman, 41, of Houston, pleaded guilty May 9, 2013, to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and making a false statement and was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison Oct. 28 by U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone. Bowman was also ordered to pay fines in the amount of $5,000.
A federal grand jury indicted Bowman back in 2012. Federal and state agents, assisted by local law enforcement officers, conducted a raid in August 2009 at the Port Arthur CES facility as well as its Houston headquarters. Evidence collected in that raid and elsewhere precipitated the grand jury action.
The 13-count indictment described a scheme in which hazardous materials were transported illegally with false documents and without placards, and where workers were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases. The exposure resulted in the deaths of two truck drivers at the facility on Dec. 18, 2008 and April 14, 2009. Both deaths were attributed to exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
At the time, company officials said that both men died of natural causes. Justice of the Peace Tom Gillam III, who conducted formal inquests into both deaths, strongly disagreed. “Mr. Sutter did not die of natural causes,” said Gillam. “His cause of death was asphyxia and poisoning due to hydrogen sulfide inhalation.” Gillam later ruled that Charles Sittig, 48, died at the Port Arthur site of severe heart disease but said exposure to hydrogen sulfide was a “contributing factor.”
Bowman admitted to not properly protecting PACES employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas, resulting in the death of truck driver Joey Sutter on Dec. 18, 2008. In addition, Bowman admitted to directing employees to falsify transportation documents to conceal that the wastewater was coming from PACES after a disposal facility put a moratorium on all shipments from PACES after it received loads containing hydrogen sulfide.
“The government’s prosecution of Matthew Bowman is now complete. While Mr. Bowman is being held accountable for his criminal conduct, and that is appropriate; there is no amount of time in prison, no amount of criminal fine that can be levied that will compensate for the loss of life at PACES. We extend our deepest condolences and well wishes to the friends and family of Mr. Sutter, who died pitilessly and needlessly because of the criminally negligent actions of Matthew Bowman,” said U.S. Attorney John M. Bales. “The agents and prosecutors conducted an outstanding investigation and prosecution.”
“Today’s sentence is a just punishment for Bowman’s actions, which placed workers at unacceptable risk and had fatal consequences,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who violate the laws enacted to ensure the safety of workers handling hazardous materials and to prevent the kind of tragedies that occurred in this case.”
Bowman was responsible for approving and directing PACES production operations, the disposal of hydrogen sulfide wastewater, and ensuring implementation of employee safety precautions. In some cases, Bowman personally handled the investigation of work-related employee injuries, directed the transportation of PACES wastewater, and determined what safety equipment could be purchased or maintained. In the cases at issue, hazardous materials were transported illegally with false documents and without the required placards. Most importantly, the workers were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases. The exposure resulted in the deaths of the two men. Placarding is critical to ensure the safety of first responders in the event of an accident or other highway incident.