Contractor blames brake manufacturer for fatal Valdez accident

Posted: Monday, June 04, 2001

VALDEZ (AP) -- Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.'s maintenance contractor claims a brake manufacturer was at fault for the Aug. 16 death of an Alyeska worker, denying claims of gross negligence brought in a civil suit by the worker's widow.

Barnes, 51, a 14-year Alyeska employee, died when the dump truck he was driving rolled over a 50-foot cliff off the steep, winding road that links the powerhouse and administration building areas at the terminal.

Houston/NANA is Alyeska's maintenance contractor for the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline, and is in charge of vehicle maintenance at the Valdez Marine Terminal.

After the accident, investigators found five of the six wheel brakes on the 12-ton Kenworth dump truck did not work. Since the brakes were inoperative, the truck was going too fast to make a turn on the road.

Patty Barnes filed suit against Houston/NANA Jan. 24, and said the company's gross negligence was a direct cause of her husband's death. She is seeking an unspecified amount in general and punitive damages for herself and her 9-year-old daughter Nicole.

The Valdez Vanguard reports that in its reply to the lawsuit, Houston/NANA claimed brake manufacturer Gunite Corp. was responsible for Barnes' death. The contractor said automatic brake slack adjusters installed on the dump truck Barnes used were the real cause of the accident.

Gunite Corp. of Rockford, Ill., manufactured the slack adjusters, although it has discontinued the model due to safety problems with the design, according to Houston/NANA.

Houston/NANA stated in court documents that Gunite failed to recall the slack adjusters used on Barnes truck, and did not notify customers who owned or operated trucks equipped with the model that Gunite had discontinued making them because of safety concerns.

Houston/NANA also claimed that Gunite did not notify customers of a need for revision of maintenance guidelines for that model of slack adjusters.

After Barnes' death, investigations were conducted by Alyeska, the Valdez Police, the Joint Pipeline Office, a consortium of regulatory agencies, and the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

State OSHA issued citations against Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and Houston/NANA in January, penalizing Alyeska with $35,000 in fines and $14,000 for Houston/NANA.

In the citations, state OSHA determined Alyeska allowed employees with nominal experience to operate heavy equipment and failed to have equipment checked for safe operating condition. The company was also was cited for failing to maintain the brakes on the 1990 dump truck, not posting warning signs on the road, and failing to notify employees of road restrictions.

Houston/NANA, a partnership between Anchorage-based Houston Contracting Co. and NANA Regional Corp., was cited for failing to control the use of unsafe equipment. The contractor was also cited for not maintaining the dump trucks brakes and tires in safe operating condition.

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