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O.C. plastics firm to pay $1.6 million to settle claims over 2009 explosion that killed two

Nearly a decade after two employees were killed in an explosion at an Orange County factory, the plastics manufacturing company where they worked has agreed to a $1.6-million settlement to end to a long-running civil lawsuit, the district attorney’s office announced Thursday.

The owners of Solus Industrial Innovations will pay $1.5 million in penalties and $100,000 in restitution to the families of the men who were killed when a water heater exploded at the plant in Rancho Santa Margarita in March 2009. The late-night blast caused the water heater to shoot through the roof of the facility and sent chunks of concrete flying into the air.

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Killed were Isidro Echeverria, 34, of Oceanside and Jose Jimenez, 51, of Garden Grove. Two other men were treated for minor injuries.

Prosecutors said the company intentionally discarded a commercial boiler to avoid the cost and permitting requirements of reinstalling it when they relocated from Pennsylvania to Orange County in 2007, and instead purchased a $500 residential water heater from Lowe’s and used it to melt plastic, officials said.

The civil lawsuit, which the district attorney’s office filed in 2012, accused the company of maintaining an unsafe work environment. Prosecutors said in a statement this week that the company knew the water heater was not equipped to function at a commercial level.

“Solus willfully, knowingly, and intentionally maintained an unsafe and hazardous work environment for their employees,” prosecutors wrote.

Solus representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigated and determined the explosion had been caused by a failed safety valve and the lack of any other safety features on the heater.

After the explosion, prosecutors also filed a criminal case against two supervisors at the company. They pleaded no contest in 2014 and agreed to pay $450,000 in restitution and complete community service hours, according to court records.

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