Contaminated soil found at Squaw
The criminal trial against the Tahoe City Public Utility District and three of its employees set for April has been canceled.
A settlement was reached Friday for the People vs. TCPUD in connection with a toxic chemical spill that occurred in January 1996. Three district employees, David Antonucci, general manager, and Stephen Back and Neil Vickers, both district supervisors, were charged with five felony counts.
“There’s no trial. It’s over,” said Donald Heller, the attorney representing Back. “The charges will be dismissed against the three individuals.”
According to Kent Wyatt, the attorney representing the TCPUD, all charges will be dropped and records will be wiped clean Oct. 15 if no other violations occur between now and October.
“We went to plea negotiations with them (the district attorney) and came out with a final resolution,” Wyatt said.
According to Peggy Turner, the deputy district attorney who was prosecuting the case, “the terms of the settlement achieved the goals of the office.”
She said the district has taken several steps to remediate the problem and ensure proper employee safety and training since the incident on their own.
The result of the settlement includes the following terms:
-The district will enter a no contest plea to felony transportation of hazardous waste without a permit and be placed on probation until Oct. 15. If there are no other violations during that time, the TCPUD can withdraw its plea.
-The TCPUD will pay a civil penalty of $50,000 to the Placer County District Attorney’s office. (According to Turner, the money will be turned back over to the Tahoe City community for environmental purposes.)
-The TCPUD will enter into a five year permanent injunction, to include the three staff positions involved in the lawsuit and prohibit them from violating any provisions of the California Hazardous Waste Control law.
-The TCPUD will train and inform all employees of the requirements and regulations regarding hazardous waste transportation and disposal.
-If there are no other violations between now and Oct. 15, the district attorney will dismiss the criminal charges against Antonucci, Back and Vickers.
According to Wyatt, the no contest plea entered is, “not a statement that they’re guilty, but they’re not contesting the underlying facts either. A guilty plea can be used against you in a civil case,” Wyatt said.
A civil suit against the TCPUD and some of its employees is still pending.
Turner said a no contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea.
“They’re saying they’re not contesting the charges without actually saying they’re guilty,” Turner said. “They’re accepting all the consequences of a guilty plea.”
The defendants were charged with felony counts last March following a grand jury indictment.
According to Wyatt, the statute of limitations to file a misdemeanor charge is one year, which came and went before the district attorney gave the case over to the Placer County Grand Jury.
“The DA’s office missed the statute of limitations on a misdemeanor, that’s why they were forced to file felony charges instead,” Wyatt said.
Turner, however, said the criminal charges were decided by the grand jury.
“The grand jury made that determination,” Turner said. “Other misdemeanors could have been charged but the statute of limitations had already run out. Those couldn’t even be presented to the grand jury.”
The toxic spill occurred in January 1996 and the grand jury was given the evidence in March 1998.
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