The family of West volunteer firefighter Morris Bridges and a man who was visiting a friend at an apartment complex near West Fertilizer Co. are among the latest to sue the company over the devastating April 17 explosion.
Six lawsuits, including one from the insurance carrier for West Rest Haven nursing home, have been filed against Adair Grain Inc., doing business as the West Fertilizer Co., in the 10 days since the blast.
State and federal investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire and explosion that killed 15 people, most of them firefighters and first responders, and injured more than 200.
The blast also destroyed homes within a five-block radius and heavily damaged the apartment complex, nursing home and a nearby middle school.
Before the first victim was buried, attorneys flocked to West and bought newspaper and television advertisements offering their services to victims and other potential clients.
Dan Keeney, a spokesman for the fertilizer company, said West Fertilizer officials will decline comment on the lawsuits while it continues to focus on cooperating with the investigation in an effort to find out what happened.
Bridges, 41, a fire sprinkler technician for a local safety company, was among the first on the scene after the call about the fire went out. He died in the explosion.
Joshua Zarecor, a Waco man who was visiting a friend at the apartment complex, was blinded and suffered burns on his face, chest, arms and hands, according to the lawsuit, filed in Waco’s 74th State District Court.
Other plaintiffs include a resident of the apartment complex who lost her possessions and a West couple who live on Reagan Street whose home was badly damaged.
The woman, Bridgett Bowles, was at the park when the blast occurred. She suffered a broken jaw and several loose teeth, according to the lawsuit she and her husband, Roger, filed in Waco’s 170th State District Court.
The other two lawsuits were filed by insurance carriers, one for the nursing home and another for 17 other businesses, churches and homeowners.
All the lawsuits allege plant officials were negligent in the operation of the facility, causing the fire and explosion.
The plant has had different owners, managers and names through the years, according to records of past litigation in the McLennan County District Clerk’s Office, and the lawsuits following last week’s blast are not the first time the company has been sued.
1992 Ammonia Leak
In 1992, former West police officer Jesse Anderson reached a confidential and undisclosed settlement with West Chemical and Fertilizer Co. after an incident involving an ammonia leak in May 1991.
According to the lawsuit, Anderson was on patrol when he received a report of ammonia fumes leaking from the plant.
He got to the area and found ammonia leaking into the air “at a rapid rate,” the suit says. He called company officials but got no response.
Realizing the leak was a “threat of imminent danger to people” near the plant, Anderson had a choice of evacuating the area, including the nursing home, or trying to stop the leak.
He stopped the ammonia leak, but suffered unspecified injuries and damages, the suit alleged.
Three other lawsuits dating back to 1974 have been filed against the fertilizer plant. One in 1990 and one in 1994 were dismissed by judges after two years because the plaintiffs did not pursue them, records show. Both involved minor incidents with fumes created by fertilizer and alleged defective sprayers from the company.
The company was cited in 1974 in a case filed by the district attorney’s office and fined $250 for hauling fertilizer without a proper permit.