Cowles scheduled for pre-trial hearing

Public Affairs Director Klare Ly reported to Historic City News from the office of State Attorney RJ Larizza, that a pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for the driver of a fuel tanker that exploded on SR-16 at 5th-Wheel BP.

One year ago, today, 60-year-old David Hunt Cowles was employed by Florida Rock and Tank Lines as a fuel-delivery truck driver.

When he arrived at the 5th-Wheel BP #215, located at Masters Drive and SR-16, investigators say Cowles learned that he had no way to verify the quantity of fuel already present in the tanks he would be filling.

With full knowledge that a potential overflow hazard existed, at about 4:45 p.m. on August 19, 2011, Cowles began to off-load approximately 8,800 gallons of gasoline into the aboveground storage tanks using the power take-off pump on the fuel tanker.

Prosecutors say Cowles deliberately disregarded his prior training, his company’s published safety policies, and nationally accepted safety codes, which require the power take-off pump operator to remain at the pump controls during the off-load.

While Cowles was at least fifty-nine feet from the truck, a gasoline overflow in fact occurred. Because of his distance from the pump controls at the time of the overflow, Cowles was unable to shut off the power take-off pump before a fire erupted.

The fire that followed destroyed six fuel storage tanks ranging from 10,000 to 18,000 gallons in capacity, three buildings, and thirteen vehicles and damaged another 14′ vehicle. The fire was of a size and intensity that it caused a 12,000-gallon gasoline storage tank to fail; emptying the contents into an adjacent salt marsh wetland. Total property damage value was unknown but estimates are well beyond $1 million.

Despite life-threatening burn injuries sustained in the explosion and resulting fire, Cowles survived. On July 17, 2012, Ly reported that the State filed second-degree misdemeanor criminal charges against David Cowles for culpable negligence when he exposed numerous bystanders and firefighters to personal injury.

If convicted, Cowles could be punished by a minimum of 6 months of probation; the maximum sentence could be 60 days in the county jail. Cowles has already filed a written plea of “not guilty” through his Miami defense attorney, Mycki Ratzan

The hearing before Judge Charles Tinlin has been scheduled for September 4 at 9:00 a.m.

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