Criminal charges filed against Reed Oil over fatal explosion

MELISSA KLARIC | HeraldThe state attorney general’s office has charged Reed Oil Co. with two counts of unlawful contact for violating state laws on above-ground storage tanks that were blamed for an August 2013 explosion that killed a New Castle welder who was working on a tank.

PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP – Criminal charges have been filed against a New Castle company in connection with the explosion of a storage tank in Pymatuning Township that killed a welding contractor last year. 

Reed Oil Co. was charged Nov. 26 by the state attorney general with two counts of unlawful conduct for violating state Department of Environmental Protection laws on above-ground storage tanks at one of its subsidiaries, Brownie’s Greenville Oil bulk plant, 499 Reynolds Industrial Park Road, Pymatuning Township.

Brian Krauss, 37, of New Castle, died of massive head trauma in the Aug. 19, 2013, explosion. The blast hurled a large storage tank across Crestview Drive and landed in the front yard of a nearby home.

The state attorney general’s office started an investigation into the explosion based on a referral made by DEP.

In October, DEP fined Reed Oil more than $60,000 for 21 violations of environmental statutes.

“I’d like to see this guy go to jail,” John Krauss, Brian’s father, said Tuesday evening in reaction to the criminal charges. 

As for the fine, he said, “That’s like flicking a quarter or a nickel. That’s a slap on the hands.”

It is unclear what criminal penalties the company is facing, as a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office was not immediately available.

According to an affidavit for probable cause, the state attorney general contends that Reed Oil hired Krauss knowing that he didn’t have the proper certification to work on the tanks.

“They said that Brian wasn’t certified but he was certified,” Krauss said. “This isn’t the first time he’d been up there welding. He had welded for the state of Pennsylvania on bridges.”

Reed Oil also is accused of failing to have four of the six ground storage tanks at the Brownie’s site, including the one that exploded, inspected by a certified inspector within 10 years. The last inspection of the tanks was October 2002, violating the state environmental code, according to the affidavit.

An investigator discovered that on the day of the explosion, Krauss had been hired to reattach the catwalk to the top of the tanks and it is suspected that the use of an angle grinder by Krauss caused the explosion and fire.

“Those people could’ve told him they put fuel in there. A tank is worse when it’s not completely full,” Krauss, who is a welder, said. “And if Brian would’ve known there was anything in it, he wouldn’t have done anything on it.”

The late Transfer Fire Chief Phil Steele had told the Herald two days after the explosion that the 10,000-gallon tank was drained of gasoline a week prior to the explosion and 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel were pumped into it two days before the explosion.

Krauss was one of several people who’d been working on the tanks leading up to the explosion, according to a neighbor.

Krauss worked on the storage tanks on other occasions, including Dec. 3, 2012, when he welded two hooks on three Brownie’s tanks.

A spokesperson for Reed Oil Co. was not immediately available for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

A preliminary hearing is set for 1 p.m. Dec. 29 in Judge Brian Arthur’s district court, Greenville.

“We just miss Brian very, very much,” Susan Krauss, Brian’s stepmother, said Tuesday evening.

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Melissa has been a news reporter for The Herald since 2013, covering breaking news, northern Mercer County, Sharon City schools and education. She is a 1992 graduate of Youngstown State University with a Bachelor of Arts in communications.