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Oil Company Settles Suit for $21M

May 26, 2000

MARTINEZ, Calif. (AP) _ Tosco Corp. will pay $21 million to settle wrongful death suits filed by the families of three workers killed last year in a fiery explosion at the company’s Avon refinery, attorneys said.

The families of Rollin Blue and Tom Rodacker, who both left children, will each receive $9 million. The family of Ric Enriquez, who had no children, will receive $3 million, attorneys said Thursday in announcing the settlements.

The three men worked for an outside company which contracted with Tosco.

``There was a conscious disregard for safety,″ said Stan Casper, attorney for the Enriquez family. ``While Tosco is refusing to acknowledge that any ‘real’ manager was involved in this incident, they would not have paid $21 million if they weren’t worried about their exposure to punitive damages in a trial.″

The family of Ernie Pofahl, a Tosco employee who also died, has a separate lawsuit pending.

Steve Duncan of Livermore, a Tosco worker who was disabled but survived the fireball by leaping 57 feet to the ground, also is suing, as is Alfred Simoni, who was not injured but claims in his suit that he was traumatized by seeing friends killed.

The five men were engulfed in an exploding ball of flammable liquid while working on a clogged pipe which ran next to a hot tower.

State and county investigators blamed Tosco for not monitoring the pipe repair job more closely and for not knowing the workers were in jeopardy.

``The settlement achieves the purpose of compensating the families,″ Tosco spokesman Jeff Lyon said Thursday. ``This settlement reminds us all at Tosco that this tragedy occurred and our hearts and prayers continue to go out to the workers’ families and friends.″

The company pleaded no contest earlier this year to five misdemeanor offenses of exposing the workers to dangers leading to death or injury. Tosco paid a $954,000 fine and contributed $1 million to a county health clinic in nearby Pittsburg.

The California Division of Occupational Health and Safety fined Tosco $810,000 for 33 violations, 16 of them ``willful.″ The company has appealed.

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