2 Cleared of Charges in Mobil Blast

Criminal charges have been dismissed against two defendants in a trial stemming from a 1988 explosion at Mobil Oil's Torrance refinery.

The dismissal leaves only Cal Cat Chemical Co., a Benicia-based contract company, and company President Paul Taylor as defendants in the trial, which finished a second week of testimony Friday.

South Bay Municipal Court Judge Josh Fredericks granted a defense motion Thursday afternoon to dismiss criminal charges of failing to provide safety instructions to workers against on-site supervisor James Hernandez and Cal Cat Vice President Frank Straw. Attorneys for the two men said the state labor codes under which the misdemeanor charges were filed applied only to employers, not to supervising employees.

The case centers on the July 15, 1988, explosion of a tank at the refinery as three Cal Cat employees attempted to treat sludge on the tank's bottom.

Cal Cat employee Winston Jones, 30, was standing on top of the tank when it exploded. He died instantly. One of his co-workers, David Moustafi, suffered burns over three-quarters of his body. Another co-worker, Jerry Lekberg, lost hearing completely in one ear and, according to his doctors, has experienced frequent flashbacks to that day.

Prosecutors charged that Cal Cat's supervisors and executives did not tell the workers about the dangers of the chemicals they were using and allowed them to create an explosive mix inside the tank.

The trial is being conducted at a Redondo Beach hotel because of a shortage of courtrooms in the South Bay. Testimony is scheduled to continue Monday.

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