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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Update Could Have Averted Blast, Widows Say

RICHMOND, Texas - An explosion killed two men who were trying to start an "outdated" boiler as one would "light a gas space heater in a house," their widows claim in court.

Leeanna Mann and Kari Smith sued CVR Energy Inc., CVR Partners LP, CVR Refining LP, Gary-Williams Energy Company LLC and Wynnewood Refining Company LLC in Fort Bend County Court.

Mann and Smith say their husbands were employed by CVR Energy at its refinery in Wynnewood, Okla., on Sept. 28, 2012, and helping restart a "gargantuan and archaic Wickes steam boiler" there.

The boiler had to be fired up manually with Russell Mann and Billy Smith in close proximity because it was not equipped with a "boiler management system," the complaint states.

"Instead, Billy Smith was tasked with the duty of watching the fire-eye of the Wickes boiler to check for ignition of the boiler's pilot light," the complaint states. "Billy Smith was literally inches away from the Wickes boiler as he was performing his task when the boiler exploded.

"Russell Mann was charged with the duty of turning the gas valve connected to the boiler which was merely a few feet away from the Wickes boiler. This archaic method of start-up is the same method used to light a gas space heater in a house.

"As Russell Mann and Billy Smith were performing their assigned tasks, the Wickes boiler exploded, killing Billy Smith instantly and causing fatal injuries to Russell Mann, who died approximately two weeks later."

Gary-Williams Energy Company managed the refinery from 2008 to 2011, and the refinery was cited that first year for numerous Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations, the complaint states.

But Gary-Williams Energy "made no upgrades and spent no money for the safety of Wynnewood workers," the widows say.

CVR bought the refinery in 2011, a year before billionaire Carl Icahn wrested control of the company in a hostile takeover, the complaint states.

Icahn, who is not a party to the lawsuit, had refused to order upgrades before the explosion because he hoped "to 'flip' the refinery," according to the action.

The widows want more than $1 million damages for negligence and gross negligence.

They claim Oklahoma's Worker's Compensation Statute, which grants employers immunity from liability for employee injuries and death, does not bar their recovery of damages, because "CVR acted willfully, deliberately, and with specific intent to cause Russell Mann's and Billy Smith's deaths."

Gary Riebschalger with Brent Coon & Associates of Houston represents the widows.

A spokeswoman for CVR Energy, based in Sugar Land, Texas, said it could not comment on pending litigation.

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