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Woman Guilty of Abandoning Chemicals

Times Staff Writer

The former owner of a Sun Valley chemical company was convicted Thursday of failing to dispose of hazardous chemicals left behind when a fire destroyed her plant in 1985.

Marianne Pratter, 52, president of Research Organic and Inorganic Chemical Co., clenched her hands and bit her lip as she was pronounced guilty in San Fernando Superior Court of illegal disposal by abandonment of hazardous wastes.

Judge Fred Rimerman then ordered Pratter, who had been free on her own recognizance, returned to County Jail until a Jan. 5 sentencing hearing, despite defense attorney Hector Briones’ argument that she is in poor health.

Pratter could be sentenced to a maximum of 3 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for failing to remove several containers of toxic and flammable materials from her plant at 9068 De Garmo Ave. after a fire April 14, 1985, Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Charney said.

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Minor Injuries

Fifty-six people suffered minor injuries from chemical fumes released by the blaze, authorities said.

Pratter also owned a chemical distribution firm in New Jersey at which a 1983 toxic gas leak resulted in a $1-million cleanup by the state. She pleaded guilty in 1984 to charges of reckless storage of hazardous materials and creating a risk of widespread injury. She was sentenced to 3 years probation and 5 months of community service and was ordered to pay $15,000.

However, the San Fernando jury, which deliberated nearly 2 days after listening to 3 weeks of testimony, was prohibited from learning of Pratter’s previous conviction, Charney said.

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4 Votes

The panel took four votes before agreeing unanimously to convict Pratter, said juror John Otter, a retired nuclear physicist.

At first, jurors “had some difficulty agreeing that she intended to abandon the hazardous materials,” thinking a lack of money may have prevented her from disposing of them, Otter said. But Otter said no evidence was introduced to show that Pratter had tried to obtain financing to cover the cost of removing the chemicals.

Los Angeles County spent more than $10,000 to remove the chemicals from the plant site after Pratter was charged in April, 1986, Charney said.

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