CAMBRIA, Wis. — Six years after an explosion at a Columbia County corn mill killed five employees and injured a dozen others, a federal case against the company that owns the facility continues to work its way through court.
An investigation found the May 31, 2017, explosion at Didion Milling in Cambria was caused by dust hazards created by the mill’s operations, which could have been prevented if proper safety protocols were followed.
Nearly five years after a deadly explosion that killed five employees, a grand jury has indicted Didion Milling and several high-ranking officials at the company for multiple federal crimes related to the blast.
Last May, Didion and several of its high-ranking officials were indicted for multiple federal crimes, including fraud conspiracy and willful OSHA violations, stemming from the blast that killed Angel Reyes, Pawel Tordoff, Duelle Block, Robert Goodenow and Carlos “Charly” Nunez.
The indictment alleges the company failed to develop and implement cleaning protocols that would reduce the accumulation of combustible dust, and that managers knew cleaning plans weren’t being followed. It also alleges the company falsified records and provided false testimony to federal officials.
Following the blast, OSHA fined Didion $1.8 million, which the company appealed in late 2017. Those fines remain unpaid, which a company representative said Tuesday afternoon is because the appeals process is still ongoing.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain unwavering for those affected by the incident six years ago; we will never forget,” Didion said in a statement. “As we mark fifty years of supporting the local agriculture community and providing more than 250 careers to our Didion team members, we are committed to continuing to serve our team, community, farmers, and customers with the highest safety and quality standards.”
According to federal court records, Didion’s then-environmental coordinator Joseph Winch, one of those indicted, signed a plea agreement earlier this month under which he agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy count and testify during the case. Two other counts against Winch would be dismissed at sentencing under the agreement.
A plea hearing for Winch is scheduled for June 15 at 9 a.m.