Grand jury indicts plant that leaked pig blood into Trinity

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by MATT GOODMAN

WFAA

Posted on December 26, 2012 at 5:29 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 3 at 8:25 AM

DALLAS — A Dallas County grand jury has returned 18 indictments against the Columbia Packing Company, its president and a vice president related to the illegal dumping of pig blood into a creek feeding into the Trinity River. 

In December 2011, a hobbyist taking aerial videos captured something dark and red flowing into an Oak Cliff creek. Soon, that footage was in the hands of Dallas County Health and Human Services investigator John Spencer. 

Court documents later detailed the investigator hearing swine cries that appeared to originate at the 99-year-old plant on East 11th Street. A few minutes later, the documents said, he heard the volume of water increase and it turned blood red in front of his eyes.

Soon, the county notified Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency, triggering a joint investigation. 

All the while, the Ondrusek family, which has operated the plant since its creation in 1913, called the discharge accidental, blaming it on a stopped-up pipe. In a statement, the company said it first learned of the complaint on Jan. 19, 41 days after the city discovered it. Had officials given Columbia a heads-up, the company “would have taken immediate remedial action." 

The city said it stayed mum because of the ongoing federal investigation.

However, during a February search of the property, investigators said they found a second, hidden pipe on the property. An attorney for Columbia argued the pipe was not hidden, but abandoned, “compacted at multiple points with dirt and brick.” 

The company was ordered not to excavate the pipe without the city present, but investigators said they did so anyway. Councilman Dwaine Caraway, who represents the district where the plant is located, led the city’s charge to shut the plant down for good. 

“They got busted and were told not to remove the pipe without proper authorities, and they went ahead and proceeded with that and removed the evidence,” Caraway told News 8’s Rebecca Lopez in March

The city cited the plant in January for 18 violations, including discharging “hair and fleshings, whole blood, plastic gloves” into the city’s wastewater system. The result of this discharge, the city said, was “unusual taste or odor-producing substances.” 

Columbia, which packed and shipped ham, bacon and brisket, agreed to stop slaughtering pigs at the facility in March. In April, the Dallas Board of Adjustment Requirements unanimously agreed to order the business to shut down. 

Debbie Denmon, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney, said the office has had the case since February. 

In all, the grand jury returned 18 indictments Wednesday against Columbia, its president, Joseph Carl Ondrusek, and vice president Donny Russell Ondrusek. 

Columbia was indicted on six counts of unauthorized discharge of a waste or pollutant, a 3rd degree felony punishable by a fine between $1,000 and $250,000. The company was also indicted on two counts of tampering with physical evidence, another 3rd degree felony that carries a fine of up to $20,000 on each count. 

Joseph Carl Ondrusek was also indicted on six counts of unauthorized discharge of a waste or pollutant. If convicted, punishment ranges up to five years in jail and a fine between $1,000 and $100,000. 

He and Donny Russell Ondrusek were also indicted on two counts each of tampering with physical evidence. They could each be jailed between two and 10 years on each, and fined by as much as $10,000.

In a summary of the indictments, Denmon called the investigation "lengthy and thorough." 

Roger Albright, one of the attorneys representing Columbia, was not available for comment at his Dallas firm on Wednesday.

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