Cross Examination of Mel Parker Begins
Government prosecutor Kris McLean continued his direct examination of Mel Parker at 3:15 p.m. Parker testified that from early spring of 1995 through fall of 1997, fifteen to twenty logging trucks per day kicked up large amounts of dust while driving down Rainy Creek Road near his property. The Parkers’ property was Grace’s former screening plant. The dust accumulated on his property, prompting Parker to ask Lincoln County to water down the road to limit the dust. Parker called the county because he believed it owned the stretch of road near his home. Parker stated that Rainy Creek Road has been closed to the public since late 1997 and few cars drive on it now.
Parker testified that he did not know his property might be contaminated with asbestos until reading articles in The Daily Inter Lake and Seattle Post Intelligencer in November 1999. He met with Peronard from the EPA on November 23, 1999, and showed Peronard around his property. Peronard returned soon after to take samples from the Parker’s property. Alan Stringer, a Grace representative, came to Parker’s home around December 1, 1999, and told Parker he had read the articles and “was disappointed” by them. Over various objections by the defense attorneys, Parker testified that Stringer told the Parkers he would do whatever it took to fix the asbestos problem.
The government then displayed exhibits 760 and 761, which were pictures of a fence separating the Parkers’ property from Grace’s property. Several large piles of what Parker described as “pure vermiculite” were displayed in the photo. The government then submitted exhibit 630, which was received into evidence over multiple defense attorneys’ relevance objections. The exhibit was a check that the Parkers’ business, Raintree Nursery, received from Grace for $40,000.
The Parkers first met with Grace representatives to discuss selling their property back to Grace on April 4, 2000. Grace offered $950,000 for the property, which Parker saw as “an insult” and refused. Parker did not like the sale agreement because of the following provisions: a liability limitation clause which released Grace forever for any bodily injury or property damage caused by vermiculite ore, tremolite, or material related to the extraction or processing of such materials; deed restrictions which would use four acres to store vermiculite waste material on the property; if demolition costs exceeded $500,000, Grace could either demolish or clean up as it saw fit; and Grace would be invited to be present at all meetings or conversations held with a government agency.
At the next meeting with the Parkers, Grace offered $1.2 million for the property, which the Parkers again refused. The Parkers never reached an agreement with Grace for the sale or clean up of their property. The EPA did agree to clean up the property. The Parkers moved from the property in mid-2000, and only returned to the property to do inventory for an appraisal. Parker finished his testimony by disclosing that he has been diagnosed with right-side pleural plaque.
Defense attorney Frongillo, who represents Defendant Bettacchi, cross-examined Parker first. Frongillo appeared to be trying to prove both that Parker knew the Grace property was contaminated with asbestos before he bought it, and that he was aware that vermiculite exposure was dangerous. Frongillo also pointed out that Parker had a college degree, and worked for the nursery and forestry departments of St. Regis for 27 years prior to operating his own nursery in Libby. Frongillo portrayed Parker as a successful businessman who owned a second business in Libby–a retail store and gas station called the Pop Shop. Frongillo inquired into problems with the underground storage tanks at the Pop Shop that Parker was required to report to the state, and the process Parker went through to test and dispose of the contaminated soil surrounding the tanks. This information will likely be used by the defense to show that Parker had experience with the state’s environmental clean-up process and knew what to do with toxic chemicals.
Frongillo next entered exhibit 5627 into evidence. This document was just provided to the government and the defense today by Parker. It was a document prepared by the state for parties potentially interested in buying the Libby mine, and stated that the tremolite content of vermiculite ore at the mine estimated 5-7%, with a weighted average of 1.27%. On the bottom of the document, a typed note provided that potential purchasers should be aware that the Libby vermiculite contains tremolite, which is classified as asbestos by the EPA. Parker admitted that he wrote on the top of the document “September 11, 1990.” However, he disagreed with Frongillo that he received the document in 1990, and stated that he did not see the document until after the EPA arrived in Libby in 1999.
Parker wrote and submitted a purchase proposal to Grace in 1993. A provision in his attached management plan mentioned that the levels of “asbestosform fibers” and heavy metals should continue to decrease with the closing of the mine. See exhibit 8641. When asked if this meant he knew that there was asbestos fibers at the mine in 1993, Parker responded that he was only listing materials that may be at the mine, and that he did not know for sure that any of those materials were contaminating the property. The proposal also had a liability provision similar to that in Grace’s offer to the Parkers a few years later; Frongillo used this provision written by Parker to impeach Parker’s earlier testimony that he did not understand the liability provision in Grace’s offer.
Frongillo used Parker’s 2001 deposition from his civil case against Grace to impeach Parker on several occasions. An attorney is allowed to impeach the current testimony of a witness with that witness’s prior statements via Rule of Evidence 613. Among other things, he used Parker’s prior testimony to establish that Parker did not know there was asbestos on the Libby mine property until 1999. Another impeachment issue was whether Stringer performed all the clean-up on Parker’s property that he said he would. It did not appear that many of the impeachment issues were terribly important to Frongillo, as he often moved on after minimal argument from Parker. Frongillo’s final questions established that Bettacchi was not named in Parker’s civil suit against Grace, and he had never met Bettacchi face-to-face. He also detailed the timeline of the EPA’s arrival in Libby in November 1999, the Parkers not moving off their property until May of June 2000, and the EPA’s lack of clean up or posting of warning signs on the property during that time. The defense is likely emphasizing the Parkers’ delay in leaving their property to attack the “imminent” danger aspect of the conspiracy charge against Grace.
Frongillo’s cross will finish up tomorrow morning starting at 8:30, and at least two other defense attorneys will also cross examine Parker.
-Katy Furlong (posted at 9:00 p.m.)