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Archive for Monday, January 16, 2012

MagnaGro owner answers lawsuit related to fatal accident at Lawrence plant

January 16, 2012

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The owner of MagnaGro Corp. has denied a Eudora woman’s claims that he failed to provide safety information to employees in a lawsuit over a 2010 industrial accident at the business.

An attorney for Raymond Sawyer has issued a broad denial in an answer to a lawsuit Rowena Hillebert filed last year alleging Sawyer’s actions caused her physical and mental injuries. Hillebert claimed she was injured April 1, 2010, when she tried to rescue her brother, Roy Hillebert, 51, from a large tank he had gone in to to try to rescue another man, Brandon Price, 25.

Authorities have said both men died after they were overcome by fumes from a material being mixed at MagnaGro’s fertilizer operation, 600 E. 22nd St.

Hillebert’s attorneys also alleged Sawyer grabbed and pushed Rowena Hillebert during an incident in December 2010 when she was cleaning his office.

“The acts and conduct of (Sawyer) were taken in self-defense and to protect (him) from the aggressive acts of (Rowena Hillebert) threatening to and attempting to inflict physical harm on (Sawyer),” his attorney Don Peterson wrote.

Sawyer did receive a Lawrence Municipal Court battery citation for that incident, and a federal judge later revoked his probation in connection to a guilty plea to a misdemeanor in 2009 for discharging waste from his fertilizer operation into the city’s sewer system. Sawyer has been released from federal prison after serving nine months on the probation violation.

Peterson also argued that Hillebert was not able to seek relief under claims filed in the lawsuit because she had filed a workers’ compensation claim.

Hillebert’s attorneys, Sally Kelsey and Donald Strole, have said the lawsuit is an attempt to recover potential damages that wouldn’t be covered as part of her workers’ compensation claim because they allege Sawyer did not have workers’ compensation insurance.

According to court records, the Kansas Workers’ Compensation Fund has also joined in the suit seeking to recover its contributions because the fund “stepped into the shoes of the employer and provided and continues to provide workers’ compensation benefits” to Hillebert.

Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone has scheduled a Feb. 1 status conference in the case.

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