Agencies get chemical spill lawsuit funds

Published 4:22 am Saturday, March 3, 2018

Several first-response agencies received funds Monday from a legal action addressing a chemical spill that took place in Bogalusa more than 20 years ago.

On Oct. 23, 1995, it was discovered that a railroad tank car had been leaking the deadly chemical nitrogen tetroxide into the air. The car was on the premises of the Gaylord Chemical Corporation, and had also been leased to that company.

The leak led to an explosion, the city was shut down and thousands of people were immediately evacuated from their homes, while many others were instructed to shelter-in-place. The leak also sent hundreds of people to local hospitals with eye irritation and breathing problems, including several law enforcement officers.

On Monday, attorney Ronnie G. Penton presented a $216,981 check to the Bogalusa Police Department, a $216,947.54 check to the Bogalusa Fire Department, and a $145,000 check to the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Penton has been a prominent attorney in legal actions related to the chemical spill’s aftermath, representing various clients in their cases. The three checks were authorized by a court order from 22nd Judicial District Circuit Judge Richard Schwartz.

The checks are a way to give back to the men and women who first responded to the deadly situation years ago, Penton said.

“These first responders did a great service to this community and saved many lives as a result of their quick action,” Penton said. “These funds are coming to the (BFD, BPD and WPSO) as a result of a very old case called ‘cy pres.’ It was a judge one day that decided that the first responders who help save a community should be compensated as well. And that’s why these funds were available to these agencies.”

Bogalusa Police Chief Kendall Bullen said that his department would use the funds for communication equipment, including 65 new mobile and portable radios.

Bogalusa Fire Chief Richard Moody said his department’s plan is to spend the money on an “Active 911” digital messaging system, as well as new air packs and cylinders.

Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal said his office would also use the money primarily for new communications-related equipment.

James Dunaway, who was the BFD fire chief during the response in 1995, was also present for Monday’s presentation at Bogalusa City Hall.

“He and his firefighters went in to the zone of danger while this rail car was putting chemical into the community,” Penton said, of Dunaway. “These folks are absolutely heroes.”

Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette and Seal each thanked Penton after the presentations.

“This will be a betterment for the community, for the city and for the parish,” Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette said.

“Mr. Penton I want to thank you for pushing this deal through and for helping the sheriff’s office and the city of Bogalusa,” Seal said. “We look forward to continuing to serve this parish and this community, and these funds will go a long ways to help us in providing better communication, where we can be quicker and be there at a moment’s notice.

“Thank you for never forgetting where you came from, and I mean that.”