Tentative deal of $50 million in suits over pipeline blast
By Steve Miletich

The Seatle Times
30 March, 2002

A tentative settlement of more than $50 million has been reached in lawsuits brought by the families of two 10-year-old boys who were killed in the 1999 Olympic Pipe Line rupture in Bellingham, sources close to the case said last night.

Barring a collapse in the agreement, the parties plan to announce it late next week after it is put in writing, the sources said.

The agreement comes about three weeks before the wrongful-death suits were scheduled for trial in Bellingham on April 22.

Olympic's lawyer, Arthur Harrigan, and Paul Luvera, the attorney for the families, declined comment on the settlement. But Luvera said he might have something to say in a week about a resolution of the case.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Steven Mura, who is overseeing the case, said he had not been notified of a settlement, but was told by the parties within the past several days that they were close to an agreement.

Talks with a mediator have been going on for weeks.

Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas, both 10, were killed June 10, 1999, when more than 236,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from the pipeline into two creeks in a Bellingham park, erupting into a massive fireball.

Both died of severe burns.

The rupture also led to the death of 18-year-old Liam Wood, who was overcome by fumes and drowned, and left a swath of environmental destruction. Wood's family has not sued.

The suits, which allege the deaths resulted from negligence, were brought against Renton-based Olympic, its partner, Equilon Pipeline of Houston, and three current and former officials of the companies.

Olympic and Equilon and two of the officials also are awaiting trial on federal criminal charges stemming from the rupture.

A settlement of the civil suits would have to be approved by boards of the companies, insurance companies and others in what one source described as a complicated web of parties.

The deal could go "sideways" if one refuses to sign the agreement, the source said.

Earlier this week, Mura denied a request by Olympic and most of the other defendants to move the trial to Spokane. The defendants argued that they couldn't get a fair trial in Whatcom County or other parts of Western Washington because of extensive media coverage about the case. Olympic and the other defendants in the criminal case also are seeking to move that trial from Seattle to a city in another state because of the publicity.

Prosecutors oppose the request.

The defendants also are seeking to avoid any mention of the deaths in the criminal case, arguing that they have been solely charged with technical violations of federal environmental and pipeline-safety laws. Prosecutors are expected to oppose the request.

Last year, the state Department of Ecology announced a record fine of $7.8 million against Olympic, Equilon and a third company, saying their negligence led to the rupture.

Olympic agreed to pay $10 million to settle part of that fine and federal civil penalties stemming from the spill.

But Equilon and the other company, a Bellingham construction company that did excavation work near the pipeline, are contesting the fine.

Steve Miletich can be reached at 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

Copyright c 2002 The Seattle Times Company

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