A Butler County grand jury has indicted United Oil Recovery Services Inc. and several of its employees on criminal charges in the death of a worker at the company’s Middletown facility.
The indictments — an unusual move that worries some local attorneys — was announced Wednesday in a statement from the Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray’s office, which is prosecuting the case at the request of the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office.
United Oil and David Weber, the company’s environmental health and safety manager, were charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, violation of wastewater permit, deviation from pre-treatment permit and criminal endangering. Company President David Brown and Plant Manager Jay Black are each charged with one count of criminal endangering.
Bob Dunlevey Jr., senior managing partner with Dayton-based law firm Dunlevey, Mahan & Furry, said the case also could be part of a political statement.
“Our firm emphasizes labor and employment law, and I’ve been doing it for 35 years, and I can’t think of more than a few cases where there has actually been a criminal indictment (similar to this),” Dunlevey said. “Granted, the attorney general has the authority to do this, but I never see the attorney general doing this. This is an eye-opener. Is this the start of a trend of our attorney general? It’s a concern.”
The charges stem from an incident in Middletown on June 21, 2008, where wastewater was allegedly being improperly treated using sodium hydrosulfide. As a result, a chemical reaction took place and lethal doses of hydrogen sulfide were released, killing United Oil employee Thomas Rogers. The Warren County Coroner’s Office concluded that the cause of Rogers’ death was hydrogen sulfide poisoning.
Company officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide are both third-degree felonies that carry penalties of up to five years incarceration and a $10,000 fine for individuals and $15,000 for an organization. Criminal endangering is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 180 days incarceration and a $1,000 fine for an individual.
United Oil was incorporated in 1998, according to state records. The company is a division of Cincinnati-based United Waste Water Services Inc., treats and recycles non-hazardous waste, according to its Web site.