Judge directs not guilty verdict for final defendant in Arkema case related to Harvey fire

HOUSTON – A judge issued a directed verdict Thursday against the final defendant in the criminal case brought against Arkema related to the fire at the company’s Crosby plant during Hurricane Harvey.

According to court records, a not guilty verdict was entered for Leslie Comardelle, the manager of the Crosby plant, on a charge of reckless emission. KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice said the directed verdict was issued because there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to a jury.

Comardelle was the only remaining defendant in the case after the charges against Arkema CEO Richard Rowe and Michael Keough, the company’s logistics officer, were dropped.

Prosecutors said they were disappointed by the judge’s decision.

“We trust Harris County juries to weigh the evidence and decide whether a crime was committed; it is disappointing and frustrating this jury will not get to render a decision," Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said in a written statement. "Today’s ruling by a judge doesn’t change the fact that dangerous chemicals on Arkema property ignited and were belched in a cloud of toxic smoke over the surrounding communities, and a first responder there protecting people is now on a lung-transplant list.”

Prosecutors had originally accused the company and the three employees of recklessly releasing chemicals into the air during a fire that started when floodwaters inundated the plant and knocked out power to the cooling system used to keep certain chemicals stable.

Arkema has said that the fire was caused by an act of God and that plant officials did everything they reasonably could to prevent it.

In 2018, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said Arkema crews worked “to the best of their ability” to keep equipment that stabilized its organic peroxides, which are used to make such things as plastic resins from losing power.

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