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Firm to pay $16 million in fatal Big Dig collapse

Prosecutors will drop a manslaughter charge against the only company charged in the fatal Big Dig tunnel collapse after the epoxy maker agreed to pay $16 million to settle a lawsuit.
Big Dig
This July 11, 2006 photo shows firefighters on the scene of the collapsed ceiling in the Interstate 90 eastbound connector tunnel through Boston killed a woman passenger in a car.Michael Dwyer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prosecutors will drop a manslaughter charge against the only company charged in the fatal Big Dig tunnel collapse after the epoxy maker agreed to pay $16 million to settle a lawsuit.

Under the "deferred prosecution agreement" with state Attorney General Martha Coakley, Powers Fasteners Inc. also will take steps to prevent the wrong type of epoxy from being used by its customers, said Max Stern, a company attorney.

"They are happy to put this behind them and get back to business," he said.

Coakley spokeswoman Emily LaGrassa confirmed the two sides reached an agreement to resolve both criminal and civil cases against Powers, but she wouldn't release details. Coakley planned a news conference later Wednesday.

The Brewster, N.Y., company was indicted after the July 2006 death of Milena Del Valle for providing the epoxy blamed in the ceiling collapse.

Powers agreed to recall its "fast-set" epoxy used in the tunnel that collapsed. The company also agreed to notify customers that the epoxy failed certain tests and is not recommended for sustained loads.

Those steps need to be completed with 120 days. If they are, the criminal indictment will be dismissed. The company is also prohibited from doing business with state and local governments until 2012.

If convicted of manslaughter, the maximum penalty Powers would have faced under state law was a fine of $1,000.

One of many companies sued
Powers was among more than a dozen companies and government entities sued by the attorney general's office after Del Valle, 39, of Boston was killed when 26 tons of ceiling panels collapsed on the car she was riding in with her husband to Logan International Airport.

Brad Henry, an attorney for Del Valle's children, said the family was "happy to see that justice has been done and to bring this chapter of the Big Dig's troubled history to a close."

Jeffrey Denner, an attorney for Del Valle's husband, Angel, said the family still feels their loss deeply.

"Legally it ends now, but emotionally it goes on forever," he said.

Powers officials insisted they told Big Dig officials that their "fast-set" epoxy was to be used only to secure wall panels, not heavy overhead concrete ceiling panels. But prosecutors said Powers should have figured out the wrong epoxy was used for the ceiling panels when company officials were asked to inspect the tunnel after some ceiling bolts came loose during construction in 1999.

Company President Jeffrey Powers called the manslaughter charge "scandalous" shortly after the indictment was issued. He accused 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.

First to settle with family
In a statement Wednesday, Powers said the company accepts its share of responsibility as one of many businesses involved in the tunnel's construction. He noted the company was also the first to settle with the family.

"As a family run company, which recently lost one of its own in a tragic roadway accident, we continue to feel for the Del Valle family, and we appreciate the supportive sentiments they have expressed to and for us," Powers said.

About five months after Powers was charged, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the Big Dig project manager, and 24 small design companies agreed to a settlement of about $458 million to cover the tunnel collapse and other problems with the project.

In a report by the National Transportation Safety Board, federal investigators spread blame for the collapse among many corporations, consultants and engineers who worked on the Big Dig, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history.

The board singled out Powers for providing "inadequate and misleading" information about its Power-Fast epoxy.

Del Valle's death prompted tunnel and road closures and a public furor over the Big Dig, which buried the old elevated Central Artery that ran through the heart of Boston with a series of tunnels, ramps and bridges. The project, which had an initial price tag of $2.6 billion, was plagued by problems and cost overruns throughout the two decades it took to design and build. It ended up costing more than $14.8 billion.