Port Arthur News
The former president of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services, LLC, or PACES, has pleaded guilty in federal court to occupational safety crimes which resulted in the death of an employee.
Matthew Lawrence Bowman, 41, of Houston, pleaded guilty to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act and making a false statement, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office/Eastern District of Texas.
Bowman was president and owner of PACES, located at 2420 Gulfway Drive, Port Arthur and CES Environmental Services located in Houston. PACES was in operation from about November 2008 to November 2010, and was in the business of producing and selling caustic materials to paper mills. The production of caustic materials involved hydrogen sulfide.
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.
Sutter’s, 36, cause of death — asphyxia and poisoning due to hydrogen sulfide inhalation — was officially released by Justice of the Peace Tom Gillam in April 2009 just days after the death of a second employee, Charles Sittig, 48, according to a story that ran in the April 18, 2009 edition The Port Arthur News.
The guilty plea was entered today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn.
“In this day and age, it seems inconceivable that workers would be exposed to the level of danger that was routine at PACES,” U.S. Attorney John M. Bales said. “Mr. Bowman’s actions as the leader of the company were more than just cavalier, they were criminal and he is being held to account. We continue to grieve for the needless loss of life and the pain and suffering of Mr. Sutter’s family and friends. This investigation and prosecution is the result of an excellent combined effort of the identified agencies and I am grateful for their hard work.”
Max Smith, regional Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, feels the plea agreement reached on Thursday sends a srong signal to all who would illegally transport hazardous materials.
“Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues, we will continue our efforts to ensure safety in the transport of these materials and vigorously pursue those who violate the law,” Smith said.
Acording to information presented in court, workers were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases. The exposure resulted in the deaths of two employees, Joey Sutter and Charles Sittig, who were truck drivers, at the PACES facility on Dec. 18, 2008 and Apr. 14, 2009.
Bowman faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 at sentencing.
A sentencing date has not been set. Charges remain pending against PACES. The corporation faces a fine of up to $500,000 per count.