Fuel tanker truck explosion (owner pleads guilty)

This 2018 Idaho State Journal photo shows what remains of a fuel tanker truck after it was blown apart by an explosion north of Chubbuck.

POCATELLO — A 65-year-old local man was sentenced to a month in federal prison and a $15,000 fine for making an illegal repair to a cargo tanker that nearly killed him and another man when it exploded, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho announced in a Friday news release.

Loren Kim Jacobson — a Pocatello man and owner of a tanker testing and repair company north of Chubbuck, KCCS Inc., received the sentence after pleading guilty to lying to Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials and conducting the risky repair without the proper certification, a violation of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, according to the release.

“Playing cat and mouse with inspectors, rather than complying with legal requirements that keep workplaces safe, is a dangerous game that can ruin lives,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will hold accountable those who mock the law this way.”

The incident occurred around 10 p.m. on Aug. 14, 2018, at the KCCS Inc. maintenance shop building along Philbin Road between Reservation and Tyhee roads, the Idaho State Journal reported in 2018. While making repairs to the tanker, the welder flame of a KCCS employee, whom the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho did not name, pierced the skin of the tanker and ignited residual flammable material inside, according to Jacobson’s plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Jacobson and the other man suffered severe burns in the blast and were transported via ambulances to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello for treatment, the Journal reported in 2018. Authorities said they were later transported to the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City in critical condition. Both men survived.

The explosion hurled fragments of the tanker as far as 50 yards away and the blast was so powerful that it shook homes more than a mile away.

Though the explosion destroyed the tanker, it caused damage to only the door of the shop building. Responding firefighters extinguished the burning tanker truck within 30 minutes.

After the explosion, an OSHA investigator interviewed Jacobson about the circumstances surrounding the accident as part of an investigation into whether Jacobson had violated OSHA safety standards for cargo tanker repair work. Jacobson made a materially false statement to the OSHA investigator during that interview, namely that the welder was merely an “observer,” not an employee, and that KCCS did not have any employees, as OSHA requirements only apply to “employers,” the release said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho said Jacobson lied about not having employees to try to evade legal repercussions and penalties for his violation of various OSHA safety standards during the repair that resulted in the explosion. Jacobson also lied about several other points, including telling the OSHA inspector that he had used a lower explosive limit meter to test the tank for explosive fumes prior to welding. Using such a meter could have detected the fumes that resulted in the explosion, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho said.

Jacobson also admitted in the plea agreement that he did not possess the necessary certification to conduct cargo tanker repairs, which he regularly conducted at KCCS. Under the Hazardous

Materials Transportation Act, all repairs to the skin of a cargo tanker require that the repairperson hold an “R stamp,” which can be obtained only after meeting extensive training requirements.

The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that those conducting repairs on cargo tankers (which often haul flammable materials) have adequate training and expertise to do so safely. Jacobson admitted that he had a regular practice of making repairs requiring an R-stamp despite knowing he did not have one, and that he would send employees into cargo tankers to weld patches from the inside so that the illegal repairs would not be visible from the outside.

Jacobson did not follow OSHA safety standards for protecting employees from such dangerous “confined space entries.” According to the plea agreement, Jacobson directed his employee to conduct a hidden repair of this type on the tanker that subsequently exploded, in violation of both OSHA safety standards and the R-stamp requirement.

According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, Jacobson also had a routine practice of falsifying results for pressure testing that he conducted on behalf of cargo tank owners. Pressure testing is required under law and is intended to make sure that cargo tanks will automatically vent gases if pressure inside the tank gets too high, thereby preventing explosions.

Instead of actually testing tank valves, Jacobson merely wrote plausible numbers on the test result forms. When confronted about this practice, Jacobson lied to a Department of Transportation inspector about it, attempting to hide the practice by producing fake test result forms with passing values. He later admitted his practice of falsifying pressure test results.

“This tragic accident could have been prevented had the defendant adhered to OSHA workplace safety requirements,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Rafael M. Gonzalez Jr. “It is vital that companies follow all health and safety guidelines and ensure a safe workplace for its employees. By callously focusing on financial gain, the defendant created the conditions that led to the explosion.”

In addition to the prison term and fine, Jacobson was ordered to spend five months in home confinement and three years of supervised release once he is out of jail.

“Loren Jacobson made material false statements to OSHA investigators regarding his failure to take safety precautions to protect his employees,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Quentin Heiden of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General’s Los Angeles Region. “His actions put his employees at extreme risk and resulted in the explosion of a cargo tanker they were repairing. Today’s sentencing affirms the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General’s commitment to bring to justice those who lie to OSHA officials.”