Testimony ends in PG&E criminal trial linked to San Bruno explosion
Posted: 07/22/2016 02:01:56 PM PDT | Updated: 11 days ago
SAN FRANCISCO -- Calling just three witnesses in a day of testimony, defense attorneys for PG&E on Friday concluded their case in the utility's federal criminal trial stemming from the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion.
Arguing that numerous PG&E employees live near the utility's gas lines, the defense sought to show that company executives and engineers would not deliberately ignore hazards or intentionally operate the pipeline system in violation of federal rules.
Attorneys called as their final witness Calvin Lui, a PG&E supervising engineer in risk management, to testify about a map depicting where utility employees live in relation to gas lines in the area. The map used blue dots to represent the residences of PG&E employees.
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The PG&E pipeline blast hole on Glenview Dr. is photographed days after the blast which occurred on Sept. 9, 2010. (Photo courtesy of the Hensel family)
But the testimony appeared to be undercut during cross-examination by prosecutor Hallie Hoffman. Lui was unable to confirm top PG&E executives or supervisors lived near the gas lines.
"No, I don't personally know where all my co-workers live," Lui replied in response to prosecution questioning. "I don't know who all these people are or where they live."
Another defense witness, David Harrison, a longtime PG&E employee in gas systems, testified that the utility undertook numerous pressure tests of its system, including Line 132, the pipeline that blew up in San Bruno.
Harrison's testimony was intended to buttress the company's assertion that it hasn't been ignoring threats to the system and conducted pressure tests to help spot defects or weaknesses in pipes.
Under cross-examination, however, Harrison testified that one of those pressure tests was conducted on Line 132 on Sept. 9, 2011 -- exactly one year after the explosion. The blast killed eight people and leveled a residential neighborhood.
San Francisco-based PG&E faces 13 criminal charges in the case, including 12 counts of violating pipeline safety rules and one charge of obstructing the investigation into the explosion. PG&E has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. If convicted on all the counts, The utility faces a fine of up to $562 million.
PG&E made a series of "deliberate and illegal choices" and subsequently covered up those decisions, in actions that led to the explosion, prosecutors said in opening statements.
But defense attorneys countered in their opening statements that individual employees and executives at PG&E are not guilty of any criminal acts and did their "level best" to operate the system safely and efficiently.
In addition, numerous PG&E executives who were called to testify said during the defense's cross-examination that they never deliberately or intentionally sought to break federal pipeline safety rules and that they did not intentionally attempt to mislead federal investigators.
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Tuesday, and the case is expected to go to the jury sometime next week.
Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167. Follow him at Twitter.com/georgeavalos.