Executive in W.Va. chemical spill gets one month in jail

Executive in W.Va. chemical spill gets one month in jail
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The head of the West Virginia chemical company responsible for polluting a city’s water supply two years ago will spend one month in jail.

Federal Judge Thomas Johnston handed down the 30-day sentence and $20,000 fine to Gary Southern, former chief of Freedom Industries, in Charleston Wednesday following his guilty plea, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

Southern faced up to three years in jail and a $300,000 fine for his role in the incident that poisoned the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people in and around Charleston in early January 2014.

“Like the others, this defendant is hardly a criminal,” the judge said, comparing Southern to his Freedom colleagues who have already been sentenced, according to the Gazette-Mail. “I stand by that statement.”

Prosecutors had asked for 21-27 months of jail time.

The incident captured national coverage and caused some state reforms intended to prevent future spills. Freedom’s facility near Charleston spilled a chemical called MCHM into the Elk River after it leaked from a poorly maintained storage tank.

Southern’s jail sentence matches that of Dennis Farrell, the president and co-owner of Freedom. Farrell and Southern were the only executies to get jail time; others were ordered to pay fines and put on probation. 

Southern was ridiculed nationally when, after local residents were without drinking water for four days, he complained that a news conference was taking too long and sipped bottled water on live television.