Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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April 16, 2014

Victims in Texas blast choose closure over answers

(Continued)

The state fire marshal's office says it will release a report on first responders' deaths later this month. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is also expected to announce its preliminary findings this month.

But the best chance for the public to find out what happened may be in civil court.

More than 100 people have filed lawsuits against Adair Grain Co., the plant's operator. The city of West, the local school district and the nursing home also sued, as did insurers for damaged businesses and homes.

Adair Grain had $1 million in liability insurance — a drop in the bucket toward the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to rebuild schools, homes and infrastructure.

Lawyers expanded their lawsuits to include the companies believed to have supplied ammonium nitrate to the plant, saying those suppliers could have sold a less dangerous fertilizer and ensured customers knew how to store it. One supplier, Illinois-based CF Industries, told federal regulators it had "strong legal and factual defenses to the claims and intend to defend ourselves vigorously."

The first trial is set to begin in January.

Steve Harrison, an attorney involved in the lawsuits, said witness testimony, documents and other evidence the cases uncover could help determine what started the fire and what could have been done to prevent it.

"We're going to examine how the products were manufactured, were they manufactured to the specifications they should have been, and if they weren't, did that make the product unreasonably dangerous," Harrison said. "The question is, 'Who's responsible?'"

But in West, a central Texas town of 2,800 people, several residents told The Associated Press in interviews that they were trying not to blame anyone.

"To me, I don't really care what happened," said Brian Uptmor, whose brother Buck was killed while trying to move animals away from the facility. "It was an accident. That's all it was. It was an accident. Being upset at everyone involved it not going to bring anyone back."

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