Kenedy locals file $1M suit after fire

By Jason Clay Jansky, Karnes Countywide Staff

A large smoke plume from the Newpark Drilling Fluids facility fire on July 1, 2018 rises above an apartment building in the Country Village Apartment complex.

Kenedy – The trouble for Newpark Drilling Fluids isn’t over after their facility in Kenedy burned down July 1. Twenty-five residents from here have now filed suit against the corporation.

The suit alleges Newpark operated their facility “in a negligent and unsafe manner,” and that such operation led to residents being displaced and exposed to dangerous smoke. The suit filed by San Antonio-based Powell Law Firm is seeking damages totaling $1 million.

“Right now we’re representing 20 families in total. A majority of those families are from Country Village Apartments. We have a few from the trailer park next door,” attorney Mickey Johnson said.

The suit also alleges Newpark failed to properly service and maintain their fire suppression sprinkler system, something not mentioned by the state fire marshal’s office in their July 18 statement at Kenedy City Hall.

Attorneys also are looking into the environmental impact on their clients. “We have an expert report that talks about some of the chemicals Involved. We’re about to file that,” attorney Jon Powell said. “These people lost property in terms of smoke damage, and then we’ve had people who have had health complications. A big part of it is the way things played out. The fire burned for almost five days. It wasn’t an hour-long fire.”
The displacement severely impacted his clients, he said, adding that their homes being open to inspectors and cleaning crews led to theft.

“Missing time at work, missing their stuff. A lot of people lost a lot of the stuff that had meaning to them. The property manager had her wedding ring stolen,” Powell said. “The property was left open for over a week. A lot of people had stuff stolen, things that had sentimental value.”

Attorneys now are taking depositions, requesting records from the state fire marshal’s office and obtaining TCEQ documents.

Powell said it important for his clients to receive justice when so many have benefited from oil activity while they have only suffered.

“It hits at the absolute heart of the Eagle Ford Shale. Some people benefited through royalty payments… and some people are left behind,” Powell said. “I guess that’s fine for the people making money living in nice houses on ranches. But for the people living in the apartment complex and trailer parks, it’s not as easy for them.”

Attorneys with the firm also are considering filing a temporary injunction to prevent Newpark from rebuilding.

Burnt equipment and buildings are seen at the site of the Newpark Drilling Fluids facility fire on July 1, 2018

Officials with Newpark have not returned several message left with their offices sing the July 1 fire, and a top Newpark official refused to comment when questioned by Countywide staff in person during the days after the fire. Nothing extremely toxic or unsafe burned as result of the fire, according to Sgt. Greg Huston with the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

He reported that finding July 18 during a press conference at Kenedy City Hall. “One of the questions that was asked to me is ‘how could a business like this be within city limits?’ The items that were contained in that building, you can get at Home Depot,” he said at the press conference. “I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want a Home Depot in their neighborhood.”

Click here to read the lawsuit in its entirety