Thursday, May 23, 2002

Worker tells of 'label stacking'

Gas supplier faces charges in asphyxiations

The Associated Press

        XENIA, Ohio — The gas supplier charged in the asphyxiation deaths of four nursing-home residents was not supposed to place nitrogen labels on air tanks on top of old labels, but it happened sometimes anyway, a company worker testified Wednesday.

        “I had been told that you don't stack labels,” Mark Grear, who filled tanks for BOC Gases Inc., said in Greene County Common Pleas Court.

        “But in production you're hit with 50 cans to fill in a night. It's been known to stack them as nicely and neatly on top of each other as you can and move on.”

        BOC, of Murray Hill, N.J., is charged with four counts of reckless homicide in the December 2000 deaths at Carriage-by-the-Lake nursing home in Bellbrook, about 10 miles east of Dayton. The residents were asphyxiated when a nitrogen tank was mistakenly hooked up to the home's oxygen system.

        Prosecutors allege the company improperly labeled the tank, placing a smaller nitrogen label atop a larger oxygen label.

        If convicted, BOC could be fined up to $60,000 — $15,000 for each death.

        Mr. Grear said the company no longer stacks labels and also welds on fittings to prevent nitrogen from being hooked up to oxygen systems.

        A maintenance worker from the nursing home testified Tuesday that he thought the tank contained oxygen when he hooked it up.

        But he acknowledged that he did not read the label on the tank and that he changed the coupler on the tank to make it fit the oxygen hook-up.

        “It looked like an oxygen tank that had somebody else's fitting on it,” said Nicholas Kostic Jr. “We assumed it belonged to somebody else's oxygen system.”

        The four who died — Darla Reynolds, 53, of Springfield; Pauline Tays, 70, of Englewood; Helen Tomlin, 76, of Spring Valley; and Betty Mickey, 77, of Bellbrook — had been on an oxygen system in one wing of the 84-bed nursing home.


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