Company to Pay $16M in Fatal Big Dig Collapse

December 19, 2008

Prosecutors will drop a manslaughter charge against the only company charged in the fatal Big Dig tunnel collapse after the New York epoxy firm agreed to pay $16 million to settle a civil lawsuit.

Powers Fasteners Inc., of Brewster, N.Y., was indicted after the July 2006 death of Milena Del Valle for providing the epoxy blamed in the ceiling collapse.

Under a “deferred prosecution agreement” announced Wednesday, Powers will pay $16 million to settle a civil complaint and take a series of steps to prevent the wrong types of epoxy from being used by its customers, including ending the sale of the type of epoxy that failed in the accident.

Attorney General Martha Coakley called the agreement a “fair and just resolution” which marks a milestone in the lengthy investigation into Del Valle’s death.

With the Powers agreement, Coakley said, “we are closing out most of the criminal and civil matters arising out of that ceiling tunnel collapse.”

If convicted of manslaughter, the maximum penalty Powers would have faced under state law was a fine of $1,000.

Under the terms of the agreement, Powers has agreed to recall its “fast-set” epoxy that was used in the tunnel that collapsed and to notify its customers that the epoxy failed a creep test and is not recommended for sustained loads.

The agreement says those notifications need to be done with 120 days, and if they are, the indictment will be dismissed.

The company is also prohibited from doing business with state and local governments until 2012.

In a statement, Powers president Jeffrey Powers said the company accepts its share of responsibility as one of many businesses involved in tunnel’s construction. He noted the company was also the first to settle with the family.

“As a family-run company, which recently lost one of its own in a tragic roadway accident, we continue to feel for the Del Valle family, and we appreciate the supportive sentiments they have expressed to and for us,” Powers said.

Powers Fasteners was among more than a dozen companies and government entities sued by the attorney general’s office after Del Valle, 39, of Boston was killed when 26 tons of ceiling panels collapsed on the car she was riding in with her husband to Logan International Airport.

Powers officials insisted they told Big Dig officials that their “fast-set” epoxy was to be used only to secure wall panels, not the heavy overhead concrete ceiling panels.

But prosecutors said Powers should have figured out the wrong epoxy was used for the ceiling panels when company officials were asked to inspect the tunnel after some ceiling bolts came loose during construction in 1999.

Attorneys for the Del Valle family praised both Coakley’s office and also credited the Powers family for reaching out to them.

The Del Valles receive none of the $16 million announced by Coakley, but had earlier received about $6 million from the company in a separate settlement. All told, the family has received about $28 million in settlements related to the accident.

Brad Henry, an attorney representing Del Valle’s children, said the family was “happy to see that justice has been done and to bring this chapter of the Big Dig’s troubled history to a close.”

Jeffrey Denner, one of the attorneys for Del Valle’s husband, Angel, said the family still feels deeply the loss of Milena.

“Legally it ends now, but emotionally it goes on forever,” he said.

Jeffrey Powers had initially called the manslaughter charge “scandalous,” and accused Coakley of using the family-owned business, which employs 240 people, in an attempt to persuade larger companies involved in the design and construction of the Big Dig to pay a multimillion-dollar civil settlement,

About five months after Powers was charged, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the Big Dig project manager, and 24 small design companies agreed to a settlement of about $458 million to cover the tunnel collapse and other problems with the project.

To date, the state has recovered $604 million in Big Dig related claims, according to Coakley, who said a few smaller cases related to the tunnel ceiling collapse are still pending.

In a report by the National Transportation Safety Board, federal investigators spread blame for the collapse among many corporations, consultants and engineers who worked on the Big Dig, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history.

The board singled out Powers for providing “inadequate and misleading” information about its Power-Fast epoxy.

Del Valle’s death prompted tunnel and road closures and sparked a public furor over the Big Dig, which buried the old elevated Central Artery that ran through the heart of Boston with a series of tunnels, ramps and bridges. The project, which had an initial price tag of $2.6 billion, was plagued by problems and cost overruns throughout the two decades it took to design and build and ended up costing more than $14.8 billion.


AP writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.

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