UNITED STATES NEWS

Federal jury convicts two employees in fatal Wisconsin corn mill explosion

Oct 17, 2023, 3:15 PM

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal jury has convicted two senior employees at a Wisconsin corn plant of falsifying records and obstructing an investigation into a fatal corn dust explosion in 2017, Justice Department officials announced on Tuesday.

Corn dust is explosive, and high concentrations are dangerous. Federal regulations require grain mill operators to perform regular cleanings to reduce dust accumulations that could fuel a blast.

Jurors found Derrick Clark, vice president of operations at Didion Milling, and Shawn Mesner, a former food safety superintendent at the company, guilty of multiple safety, environmental and fraud charges on Friday. The two men are the latest in a growing list of Didion employees found guilty in association with the 2017 explosion that killed five people at the company’s Cambria corn mill.

Attorneys listed for both men did not immediately respond to voicemails seeking comment on Tuesday.

Didion Milling pleaded guilty in September to charges that its employees falsified environmental and safety compliance records for years leading up to the explosion. The company agreed to pay a $1 million fine and $10.25 million to the estates of the five workers who were killed.

Clark was convicted on Friday of making false Clean Air Act compliance certifications and lying to investigators during a deposition. Mesner was found guilty of conspiring to mislead Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators by lying on sanitation records that tracked cleanings meant to remove corn dust from the mill.

“Derrick Clark and Shawn Messner chose to intentionally mislead OSHA investigators and made false statements about their knowledge of working conditions at the plant to protect themselves and cover their mistakes,” OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan said in a statement.

Sentencing hearings have not yet been scheduled for either of the men. At least five other Didion employees have pleaded guilty or been convicted of charges including concealing environmental violations, lying to investigators and falsifying cleaning logs.

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Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Federal jury convicts two employees in fatal Wisconsin corn mill explosion