Trial of company and executive tied to a fatal 2011 Waikele bunker blast begins

Trial of company and executive tied to a fatal 2011 Waikele bunker blast begins
Published: May. 9, 2017 at 3:09 PM HST|Updated: May. 9, 2017 at 6:48 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In opening statements Tuesday, federal prosecutors said a company and one of its executive tied to a 2011 Waikele bunker blast that killed five employees showed a "reckless disregard" for safety.

Donaldson Enterprises used the storage bunker to dispose of illegal fireworks seized by federal authorities. Authorities said Charles Donaldson, director of operations for the company, allowed workers to dismantle fireworks -- cut them open and store the explosive powder in boxes in the bunker -- without a permit.

The two defendants are also accused of making false statements to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"This case is about reckless disregard for the law and safety and the permitting process put in place to keep us all safe from hazardous waste," said assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Wallenstein.

Donaldson's lawyer, Thomas Otake, said his client "wasn't trying to hide anything."

"He wasn't trying to skirt some permitting issue. He was trying to comply," Otake said.

Otake told jurors that the 41-year-old is not guilty because the fireworks belonged to the federal government and that multiple agencies knew what he was doing. The defense attorney also pointed out that Donaldson tried to get a second permit after the first one expired, but that the state Department of Health had changed its rules.

A federal safety report found that the explosion was likely triggered when a heat source caused by shock or friction ignited some pyrotechnic powder.

Another man accused in the case, Donaldson Enterprises' project manager Carlton Finley, agreed to a plea deal in April. Finley will be sentenced next month.

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