There’s no question in my mind that there was significant professional sloppiness involved in the supply of epoxy materials for the turnpike connector tunnel that experienced a catastrophic failure a year ago when a portion of the concrete roof collapsed, killing a passenger in a car. But criminal negligence? That’s outright silly. Yes, the wrong type of epoxy was used. Internal memos already reported on this Web site show that Powers Fasteners notified the appropriate Massachusetts highway engineer all the way back in 1999 that the quick-setting epoxy was not appropriate for the sustained loads experienced in the ceiling. Two types of epoxy were shipped to the work site and the wrong type was used for the ceiling. Where is the criminal negligence? To me, that’s just negligence.
What’s even sillier is that the maximum penalty, if Powers Fasteners is found guilty, is a $1,000 fine. No one goes to jail. You can’t send a corporation to jail. This has become an outrageous political football.
Powers Fasteners is not a fly-by-night operation. It’s a 75-year-old family owned business in Brewster, NY. And they hired leading engineering consultants to work with the State of Massachusetts to make sure the right material was selected. Jeff Powers, the president of Powers Fasteners, responded after learning of the indictment: ”We are stunned, beyond belief. The only reason that our company has been indicted is that unlike others implicated in this tragedy, we don’t have enough money to buy our way out.”
Even though the criminal penalties are slim, Powers Fasteners could face a ban on sale to publicly funded building projects. It also faces potentially enormous legal costs and civil penalties.
The implications of this indictment to design engineering projects are momentous. Are suppliers repsonbile to supervise all work done with their materials? In this case, the cost of materials involved was $1,287.60, and the sale was actually made through a local distributor. The answer, of course, is no. Contractors or manufacturers assume the liability for responsible use of materials. If the epoxies had been mislabeled, that would have been a different story.