Illinois Barge Captain Sent To Prison For Fatal 2005 Explosion

reuters logo In an uncommon maritime case, an Illinois man who was captain of a petroleum barge that exploded in a Chicago canal in 2005, killing a crew member, was sentenced to six months in prison on Friday, prosecutors said.

Dennis Egan, 36, of Topeka in central Illinois, and the barge owner, Egan Marine Corp. of Lemont, were each convicted in June 2014 of negligent manslaughter of a seaman and negligently discharging oil into a waterway, according to a statement from prosecutors.

The Chicago suburban company was ordered to pay $5.3 million in restitution to the National Pollution Funds Center for the clean-up.

On January 19, 2005, a barge being pushed by the tow boat “Lisa E” on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was carrying about 600,000 gallons of clarified slurry oil from an ExxonMobil refinery to the Ameropan Oil facility on the city’s south side.

Representation Image - Credits: Vincent de Boon
Representation Image – Credits: Vincent de Boon

The barge exploded after a crewman, Alexander Oliva, 29, used a propane torch to heat the barge’s cargo pump and ignited oil vapors. The use of an open flame on a loaded petroleum barge violates U.S. Coast Guard regulations and safe industry practice, prosecutors said.

The resulting explosion discharged thousands of gallons of oil into the canal. Oliva’s body was recovered weeks later, prosecutors said.

Total cleanup and other costs from the spill were more than $12 million, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel concluded that Egan and Egan Marine permitted the use of open flames by crew members, even though it was a safety violation.

“The ultimate tragedy of their crimes is that Alex Oliva would not have lost his life if the defendants valued basic safety higher than expediency,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, in a statement.

Negligent manslaughter of a seaman is a fairly unusual charge, and an explosion of this type is “exceedingly rare,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Chapman. Explosions were more common in the time of steamships.

A sentencing hearing on restitution for Oliva’s family from Dennis Egan and Egan Marine will be held next week, said Chapman. Prosecutors have said the cost could be up to $1.5 million.

Dennis Egan is considering an appeal, Walters said.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Lisa Lambert)

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