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2019 warehouse fire that killed a man leads to wrongful death lawsuit

Scene from the deadly 2019 fire.
Scene from the deadly 2019 fire.(HNN)
Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 6:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A wrongful death lawsuit filed over a 2019 fire at a Kapolei recycling yard alleges that the accident could have been avoided.

Robert “Chris” Bowers, 28, died in the Oct. 31, 2019 fire at Green Recycling LLC’s Campbell Industrial Park yard, which sent up a cloud of black smoke that could be seen for miles.

The lawsuit alleged that Green Recycling has been cited for safety violations and previous fires in 2017 and 2011.

“It’s very frustrating and heartbreaking that they couldn’t have implemented procedures, gear and training that could have prevented this,” said Kau’i Peneku, Bowers longtime girlfriend and mother of his two daughters.

Robert Miyashita, attorney for Bowers’ family, said that on the day of the fire, Bowers -- a contract laborer -- was using a bucket to collect fuel from a car that was placed on a lift.

[Read a previous report: Co-workers mourn man killed in warehouse blaze as investigation continues]

He said a co-worker was using a reciprocating saw to cut into the gasoline tank while both men stood near a large pan that collected fuel or chemicals that escaped.

That pan later ignited along with gasoline stored nearby due to a spark from the saw, the suit said.

“These workers were not provided with any safety gear,” said Miyashita. “They were also provided with no type of training.”

Bowers suffered second and third degree burns on 90 percent of his body and died that night.

Green Recycling said it was not at fault and blamed Bowers.

“He picked up the extinguisher and he went into the fire area … He should have stayed away and if he did, it would have been all right,” said Walter Chung, Green Recycling’s owner.

Green Recycling’s yard has been hit by several fires during the past decade. The lawsuit blamed Green Recycling for not taking adequate safety measures.

A 2017 fire was started when a worker pierced a fuel tank that still contained gasoline. The federal government later fined the company $6,440 for safety violations.

And in 2011, a worker using a pick ax sparked a fire, causing $800,000 in damage.

Chung said he paid the fines and has implemented adequate safety precautions.

“It’s a safe place. I’m always saying ‘safety, safety, safety.’ Safety is most important,” said Chung.

Miyashita countered: “It’s very difficult to have sympathy for a business that disregards the safety of others,” he said.

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