Plant Where Worker Died Had Been Given Clean Bill Of Health, Defense Says
MAYWOOD, Ill. (AP) _ Four company officials charged with murder in the job-related cyanide death of a worker had no reason to believe the plant was dangerous because government inspectors had said it was safe, a defense attorney says.
Ron Menaker, attorney for one of the former officials of the defunct Film Recovery Systems Inc., challenged prosecutors’ claims the men knew conditions were dangerous enough to kill or cause great harm to workers.
The trial stems from the 1983 death of Stefan Golab, 61, a Polish immigrant who worked at Film Recovery’s plant in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village. An autopsy showed he died of acute cyanide poisoning.
The officials are believed to be the first in the nation to face murder charges in a job-related death.
Menaker said Monday that local and federal officials, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and insurers inspected the plant before Golab’s death. The plant was open from 1979 to 1983.
″They saw nothing unacceptable about the process,″ argued Menaker, who represents Gerald Pett. ″Nobody told Mr. Pett or anybody they were operating a process dangerous to anybody’s life or anybody’s safety.″
Defense attorneys contend that no worker became seriously ill before Golab’s death and that some of the defendants worked alongside plant employees and sometimes brought in family members, including Pett’s pregnant wife, to help out. They argued the men wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t believe conditions were safe.
But Gary Leviton, assistant Cook County state’s attorney, said in his opening statement that the company officials engaged in a ″pattern of deception″ and didn’t tell employees they were working with cyanide.
Leviton also said workers were never instructed in the proper use of cyanide and were given inadequate protective gear, such as paper dust masks instead of proper respirators.
He said some suffered headaches, rashes, nosebleeds and other illnesses.
The officials ″knowingly committed acts in creating and maintaining that plant that created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm,″ Leviton added.
Prosecutors will have to prove that charge to secure a murder conviction.
Kenneth Kviera, an Elk Grove Village police officer, also testified for the prosecution and said when he arrived at the plant the day Golab died, ″there was a strong foul odor I was gagging on.″
He said the same smell was prevalent in the room where workers were eating lunch.
Workers at the plant, which closed after Golab’s death, recovered silver from X-ray film by dipping it into a chemical solution containing cyanide.
Facing charges of murder and reckless conduct are Pett, who was a Film Recovery vice president and manager; Charles Kirschbaum, plant manager; Steven O’Neil, company president; and Daniel Rodriguez, a foreman.
A fifth officer, Michael T. MacKay of Salt Lake City, also was indicted but former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson rejected two extradition requests. Prosecutors say they will try again.
Film Recovery and two related companies also are charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Film Recovery filed for bankruptcy in 1983.