Apr. 2008 – Settlement reached in AGP blast lawsuit

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Sioux City Journal. Molly Montag. April 9, 2008.

Settlement reached in AGP blast lawsuit

An undisclosed settlement has been reached between the families of two Ag Processing Inc., employees killed in a hexane gas explosion at its soybean-processing plant near Salix, Iowa.

In the lawsuit, the family of maintenance worker Kyle Heck of Hornick, Iowa, alleged negligence against his supervisor, Mark Croghan of Sioux City. Both men were killed as a result of an explosion on Aug. 29, 2003, at AGP's plant in the Port Neal Industrial Complex.

Heck's family contended Croghan was negligent for allowing Heck to do maintenance when ventilation fans and hexane gas monitors were not working because the plant's electricity was out.

District Court Judge Gary E. Wenell said he was informed by attorneys on Monday night that a settlement had been reached. The trial was formally closed on Tuesday morning, and Wenell thanked and discharged the jurors.

Donald Beattie, an attorney for the Heck estate, which includes the man's parents and three children, declined to comment on terms of any settlements. His clients had settled with M&W construction and C J Schneider Engineering prior to the trial.

"At the request of the defendants and as a condition of the settlement, the amounts are confidential," Beattie said.

The trial started on March 25 in Woodbury County District Court and continued through Monday. It originally was expected to last four to six weeks.

In addition to the deaths of Heck and Croghan, six people were injured in the blast, which was caused by a build up of hexane gas.

The plant uses the hexane to extract oil from soybeans. Heck was working in the extraction room when he smelled hexane prior to the explosion, according to a litigation summary for the case.

The blast occurred before Croghan, who was informed of the smell, could find the source of the problem.

"This was one of the most emotional, stressful things I've ever been through," Beattie said. "There were horrendous injuries and the liability was hotly contested."

Lawyers for the Croghan family, which settled it's own lawsuit against contractors and designers about a month ago, could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment.

Another civil case filed by two other men injured in the same blast -- Eric Ploen of Kingsley, Iowa, and Dustin Hannah of Climbing Hill, Iowa -- is expected to come to trial in the near future.

The two men are seeking money for damages that include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, as well as past and future medical expenses and lost wages.

Judge Wenell said he expected in the next few days to issue an order setting the trial date.

Ploen and Hannah, who were severely burned, are suing six supervisors, alleging they knew about safety violations at the plant prior to the explosion.

In 2004 the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined AGP $162,500 for safety violations that included failure to provide ventilation to control hexane gas during the electrical shutdown. The fines were later reduced.