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Two men convicted for fatal Didion Milling dust explosion

The explosion stemmed from neglected safety protocols and a culture of regulatory non-compliance.

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Wisconsin State Journal's Ed Treleven reported on further legal consequences for a dust explosion at Didion Milling's Cambria, Wisconsin, in 2017. The explosion resulted in the deaths of five workers and serious injuries to others, was caused by a buildup of highly combustible corn dust, was exacerbated by inadequate dust control and a culture of regulatory defiance.

Derrick Clark, 50, the vice president of operations at Didion, and Shawn Mesner, 45, the food safety and technical superintendent, were convicted of falsifying records, obstructing investigations, and other related charges. Prosecutors had sought a five-year sentence for Clark and three years for Mesner, but U.S. District Judge James Peterson ultimately imposed two-year terms, followed by a year of supervised release. Clark was also fined $5,000.

A third individual, Anthony Hess, 55, a former shift superintendent who pleaded guilty and testified against his colleagues, received a lighter sentence of one year probation and a $5,000 fine. Hess's cooperation was crucial in the case against Mesner, Clark, and another acquitted man, James Lenz.

This case highlighted a “pervasive culture of regulatory defiance and dishonesty” at the mill, according to Judge Peterson, who pointed out the moral responsibility of the defendants in the tragic incident. The explosion was caused by a spark igniting accumulated corn dust, leading to a chain-reaction blast that obliterated the facility.

In addition to the individual sentences, Didion Milling Inc. was previously sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay a $1 million fine and $10.25 million in restitution after pleading guilty to two felony charges.

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