CINCINNATI – A Forest Park man who lost his son in an explosion and fire lashed out Wednesday at a plea deal reached with the company where he worked.
Jim Henzerling says laws need to be changed to protect victims and their families after the company, indicted for reckless homicide and other charges, got by with a $5,000 fine.
"Basically I can own a business and I can kill anybody I want, I can poison anybody I want, and I can pay a fine,” Jim Henzerling said.
“That's the way it's set up in Ohio. I can't sue them because of Employer Intentional Tort Law. That's a crying shame. Politicians' kids don't have to work in these places. Our kids do.“
Zachary Henzerling, 20, began working at Environmental Enterprises Inc. in Spring Grove Village some 4 1/2 years ago. Three weeks later, he died in an explosion and fire on Dec. 28, 2012.
A Hamilton County grand jury indicted the company and two managers, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced in January 2016.
The company pleaded no contest to negligent homicide Wednesday and was found guilty by Judge Thomas Heekin. The $5,000 fine was the maximum under the law.
Zachary Henzerling was treating hazardous waste when the explosion occurred. His father said his son and others weren't properly trained.
“He was doomed from the day he started because of their incompetence and their lack of caring to do the right thing towards my son and other employees that were there,“ Jim Henzerling told the court.
“My son took this job and he expected them to look out for him and teach him the right way and things and they did not. In any sort of imaginary world they live in, they did not.”
In a release, EEI President Dan McCabe said the fire was a result of a shipment of mislabeled air filters that turned out to be explosive.
“EEI was not alerted to their highly flammable nature,” McCabe said. “We had no idea we were being shipped something that would explode. Had we known, we would never have accepted the shipment.”
To Jim Henzerling, that's just finger-pointing.
“I waited 4 ½ years, Your Honor - 4 1/2 years for some semblance of regret or responsibility that have never transpired,” he said in court.
Zachary’s father said he wanted to sue the company but is blocked by Ohio's Employer Intentional Tort Law — something he hopes can be changed. The law says, in part:
"The employer shall not be liable unless the plaintiff proves that the employer committed the tortious act with the intent to injure another or with the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur."
“It's a crying shame. It's a sad day for Ohio when the politicians call the shots and kill your children for a law for the insurance companies,” Jim Henzerling said.
The indictment against EEI also charged the company with involuntary manslaughter, tempering with records, tampering with evidence and violating the terms of a solid waste license.
Zachary’s supervisior, Kyle M. Duffens, was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and three counts of violating the terms of a solid waste license, including failure to take proper precautions to prevent a fire or explosion.
Duffens’ case was continued this week, according to court records.
Gerald E. Nocks, a company manager, was indicted on charges of violating a solid waste license for failing to properly train employees, tampering records and two counts of tampering with evidence. He falsified training records to make it appear that employees had received training they never had been given, DeWine said.
Charges against Nocks were dropped after he died in 2016.
Henzerling said his son was working to get money to go to college and help support a child who wasn't even his. He told WCPO he misses Zachary every day, calling him an angel, his biggest accomplishment in life, a young man who didn't drink, smoke or do drugs.
Jim Henzerling said he knows it’s rare for a company to be charged, but he wished for more punishment.
“I'm blessed we got this far, but I’m not happy with the outcome," he said.