DENVER Federal prosecutors said Xcel Energy knew of workplace safety violations that led to the death of five workers.
However, a defense attorney said Wednesday it was an Xcel contractor that violated regulations and called the deaths an accident.
Xcel Energy and a subsidiary, Public Service Co. of Colorado, are each charged in federal court with five counts of violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations for the October 2007 fire inside a water tunnel at the Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant near Georgetown, about 40 miles west of Denver.
This case is the United States versus Xcel and the Public Service Co. of Colorado. Theyre the same people, federal prosecutor Jaime Peña said in his opening statement.
Donald Dejaynes, 43, Dupree Holt, 37, James St. Peters, 52, Gary Foster, 48, and Anthony Aguirre, 18 died as a result of smoke inhalation when a flammable solvent they were using caught fire, trapping them inside the tunnel.
Firefighters who arrived at the scene would have had to rescue the workers by using ropes or ladders to go down a 20-foot vertical section of the tunnel, then down another section of the tunnel sloping at a steep 55 degree angle.
In August, a federal investigation found the Minneapolis-based companies and the contractor at fault for failing to adequately plan for a hazardous work that included taking flammable solvents inside a 4,300-foot tunnel.
Peña said the tunnel has no access points and is literally in a mountain.