Image: Big Dig Tunnel collapse
A car was crushed by ceiling panels that fell in July 2006 in the Big Dig Tunnel in Boston, killing one. A probe found problems with the bolt-and-epoxy system used to hold the 4,600-pound concrete ceiling slabs.
updated 9/6/2007 5:14:35 AM ET 2007-09-06T09:14:35

An epoxy company blamed for a deadly ceiling collapse inside one of Boston’s Big Dig highway tunnels pleaded not guilty Wednesday to manslaughter.

Powers Fasteners Inc., based in Brewster, N.Y., was indicted last month in the July 2006 death of Milena Del Valle, who was crushed when 26 tons of concrete ceiling panels fell as she and her husband drove through a tunnel. Her husband suffered minor injuries.

More than a year of state and federal investigations focused on the epoxy that was used to hold the heavy ceiling panels in place. Prosecutors said Powers Fasteners knew the type of epoxy it sold for the tunnel project was unsuitable for the panels but never told project managers.

After the arraignment, company President Jeffrey Powers called the indictment “ridiculous” and “scandalous.” He accused Attorney General Martha Coakley of using the family-owned business, which employs 240 people, in an attempt to persuade larger companies involved in the design and construction of the Big Dig to pay a multimillion-dollar civil settlement.

“Powers is an easy target. We are only a pawn in her chess game for the really big money,” Powers said.

A spokeswoman for Coakley said she had no immediate comment on Powers’ remarks.

If convicted of manslaughter, the maximum penalty Powers Fasteners could face under state law as a company would be a fine of $1,000. Del Valle’s family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Powers Fasteners, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and eight other companies.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Powers Fasteners should have figured out that the wrong epoxy was used when company officials were asked to inspect the tunnel after some ceiling bolts came loose during construction in 1999.

But company officials insist they filled an order for their Standard Set epoxy to be used to suspend the heavy ceiling panels, and never knew that their Fast Set product was used instead. The Fast Set epoxy was supposed to be used to secure wall panels in the tunnel, not the overhead ceiling panels, said company attorney Max Stern.

“Powers did inform both state officials and project officials of all the relevant information, both before and after the suspended ceiling was installed,” said Stern.

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