Apr. 2008 – Trial begins today in wrongful death case

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Sioux City Journal. Molly Montag. April 10, 2008.

Trial begins today in wrongful death case

Jury selection is to begin today in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man who died more than four years ago in an explosion at a soybean processing plant in Sergeant Bluff.

Kyle Heck of Hormick died as a result of an explosion on Aug. 29, 2003, when the electrical system of Ag Processing Inc. (AGP) in Sergeant Bluff was shut down for maintenance.

Heck's estate -- his parents, Pamela Vickers and Kevin Heck, and his three children -- are suing the estate of his former supervisor, Mark Croghan of Sioux City, and several contractors involved in construction and design at the plant.

According to AGP's Web site, the farmer-owned cooperative was founded in 1983 and operates nine soybean-processing plants in the United States, including six in Iowa.

Donald Beattie, a lawyer for the Heck estate, declined to say how much money in damages his clients are seeking, saying only "unspecified damages."

He declined to speak in depth about the case, referring questions to court documents. He said he expected the trial would take four to six weeks.

"The litigation summary pretty well puts forth our claims," Beattie said.

According to the litigation summary, Heck, a maintenance employee, was assigned to work in the extraction room. According to the document, Heck smelled the highly flammable gas hexane -- which is used to extract oil from soybeans -- and called his supervisor, Mark Croghan.

Croghan began to look for the source of the smell, the document stated, but an explosion soon occurred and killed both men and injured six others.

According to a litigation summary of the case, Heck's family accuses Croghan of gross negligence for allegedly allowing Heck to perform maintenance while the plant's electrical system wasn't working, which would have prevented electric exhaust fans and hexane-monitoring devices from functioning.

A lawyer for the Croghan estate did not return a phone message seeking comment. No one from AGP was available late Monday afternoon to speak about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges M & W Contractors and C.J. Schneider & Company were negligent in the design and installation of equipment in the extraction room.

The Croghan estate also has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several contractors.

Woodbury County court administration officials said the Croghan lawsuit, which was originally scheduled to start today, will not be on the docket for unspecified reasons.