63ºF

Harris County, injured employee sue owner of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing after explosion


HOUSTON – Two new lawsuits against Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, site of Friday’s explosion that killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes, were made public Thursday.

Harris County announced it’s suing the company on behalf of the residents of Harris County, claiming Watson “failed to exercise its duty of care to protect the public" with its use of the chemical propylene.

Watson employee, Sean Rangel, announced his own lawsuit Thursday, saying he was nearly killed by the blast as he parked his truck Friday morning near the plant. Rangel said he was parking his truck just before 4:30 a.m. Friday, when he saw his friend and co-worker, Frank Flores.

Seconds later, he described seeing a bright flash and feeling his pick up truck being thrown some 50 feet with him inside. Rangel said he thought he had been hit by another car. With a ringing in his ears, he said he stumbled out of the trunk and realized the building he was about to enter was now gone.

“There was no looking for (Frank)," Rangel said. “I knew if the wall that is made out of concrete (was) not there, he would not be there.”

Flores and Gerardo Castorena, both Watson employees, were killed in the explosion. They were at work before their 4:30 a.m. shift to work out at the company gym.

Flores’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner of the company.

Rangel said he believes he survived the impact because his truck shielded him. On Thursday, he wore a patch over his left eye, saying it’s swollen shut and still has shrapnel in it. He fears he will lose his hearing and vision.

“My head is pounding; I can’t sleep," Rangel said, as his eyes filled with tears. “I see Frankie every time I close my eyes and think, ‘That could have been me with him.'"

As part of his lawsuit, Rangel claims he saw many chemical leaks at the Watson plant in his six years with the company.

“They would just get some kind of sealer, patch it," he claims. “They won’t shut the system down to replace the whole pipe, just patch it so they could keep on running.”

A spokesman for Watson told KPRc 2 the company is not commenting on any on-going lawsuits. KPRC 2 also asked Watson’s representative about an all-employee meeting that Rangel said he was invited to but declined to go.

Watson’s spokesman told KPRC 2 the company will be paying all employees 80% of their salaries for the next 90 days.