Equilon to pay $45 million
The Associated Press

The Bellingham Herald
20 January 2001

Tragedy: Company settles after Anacortes 1998 refinery blast that killed six men.

SEATTLE -- Equilon Enterprises agreed Friday to pay $45 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit in a 1998 Anacortes refinery explosion that killed six men.

Lawyers for the victims' families described it as the largest death settlement in state history.

Killed in the Thanksgiving-eve refinery blast were Ted Cade, 23; Wayne Dowe, 44; Ron Granfors, 49; Jim Berlin, 38; Warren "Woody" Fry, 50; and Dave Murdzia, 30.

The explosion occurred after high winds caused a power failure when one of the fuel-processing coker drums was partly full of oil. Workers waited 37 hours for the oil to cool, then began removing the drum head. They were met by a burst of hot liquid that went up in flames upon contact with air.

Relatives of the victims had sued Equilon in Skagit County Superior Court, contending refinery officials did not have adequate safety procedures to protect workers after the power outage.

In 1999, the company reached a $4.4 million settlement with the state Department of Labor and Industries, which had cited Equilon for failing to follow safety procedures. That was the largest worker-safety settlement in state history.

Three lawsuits involving the victims' relatives had been consolidated and were scheduled for trial Jan. 29.

Dave Berlin, father of Jim Berlin, said the settlement means his grandchildren "can have what they've always wanted, except their dad."

His wife, Judy, said there have been many improvements at the refinery. "There's room for more, and I just wish it'd been done earlier," she added. "It would have saved our son's life."

The settlement was worked out with the aid of a mediator, said Seattle attorney Thomas Harris.

"We are very sorry for the loss of life and the pain and suffering of these families," Carmine Falcone, Equilon vice president of refining, said in a statement. "While nothing can bring back the men we lost, this agreement avoids the pain of a difficult trial and enables the families, our employees, and the community to begin to heal."

The refinery is owned by Equilon's Puget Sound Refining Co. Houston-based Equilon is a partnership between Texaco and Shell. Equilon also managed Olympic Pipe Line Co. at the time of the June 1999 gasoline pipeline rupture, explosion and fire that killed three people in Bellingham's Whatcom Falls Park.

BP Amoco, which now owns a majority stake in Olympic Pipe Line, last year became the managing partner and operator of the Olympic pipeline.

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