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Co-Worker Details Immigrant’s Death in Cyanide Poisoning Trial

April 17, 1985

MAYWOOD, Ill. (AP) _ A 61-year-old immigrant complained he felt faint and staggered from the cyanide vats of a suburban Chicago company before he collapsed and died, a co- worker has testified at the murder trial of four business executives.

The Cook County Circuit Court trial stemming from the 1983 cyanide death of Stefan Golab is believed to be the first in which corporate officers face murder and reckless-conduct charges for the death of a worker.

″I shouted to him to go outside,″ Roman Gucowski testified Tuesday through a translator.

Gucowski, whom prosecutors brought back from his native Poland to testify, said he recalled Golab gasped his final words, saying, ″After I rest, I’ll help you.″

But moments later, Golab, an illegal Polish immigrant working at Film Recovery Systems Inc. in Elk Grove Village, collapsed, Gucowski said.

The now-defunct Film Recovery Systems employed 20 to 40 mostly Mexican and Polish aliens who spoke little English and handled cyanide solutions to recover silver from exposed X-ray film, authorities said.

Asked by prosecutors whether he and other employees had been sick at work, Gucowksi said, ″Yes ... very often others vomited.″

He described one day when plant manager Charles Kirchbaum had to be carried from the building, vomiting and faint after two cyanide vats spilled.

Gucowski also said he complained to no avail about cyanide fumes and the lack of ventilation at the plant. He said Film Recovery issued workers only cloth gloves and flimsy paper masks.

He rolled up his pants and held out his hands to show the court red scars he said were caused by cyanide burns. Gucowksi also testified he lost ″20 percent of my eyesight″ after getting splashed by cyanide.

In response to a question about whether anyone had been told that the materials they handled were toxic, he shook his head and said ″no.″

Gucowski said he once saw a worker burning off the skull and crossbones warning symbol from a drum of industrial material.

But under cross-examination, Gucowski admitted re-applying for his job at the plant after leaving there several weeks following Golab’s death. He said he needed money to return to Poland and would have worked only in the part of the plant where no cyanide was handled.

In opening arguments Monday, the defense said the defendants operated a plant that was regularly inspected by the government and found to be safe.

The defendants, who pleaded not guilty, are Kirchbaum; Daniel Rodriguez, former assistant plant manager; Steven J. O’Neil, former company president; and Gerald Pett, an ex-vice president.

The defendants waived their right to a jury and the bench trial is being heard by Circuit Judge Ronald Banks.

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