Courts & Crime

Criminal charges dropped, payment made in severed arm case

A 35-year-old Ceres woman whose arm was severed as she cleaned a Hershey chocolate factory machine will get $100,000 in exchange for criminal charges being dropped against the company, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

The Hershey Co. faced two charges alleging they did not secure safety checks on the machine that injured Erica Domen.

The company could have paid a maximum fine of $1.5 million if the case had gone to trial. But Deputy District Attorney John Goulart said dropping the criminal charges helped ensure some money went to Domen because she might not have been entitled to more restitution.I think since the criminal case only charged Hershey and not an individual it wasn't of huge importance to me to have a criminal conviction," Goulart said. "This was a way to ensure Erica got some money."

Defense attorney Kirk McAllister, who represented Hershey in the criminal case, could not be immediately reached for comment.

In addition to the payment to Domen, Hershey must pay $125,000 in fines to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office and $88,000 to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA.

Hershey did not admit fault as part of the court settlement, but admitted one willful violation and one serious violation to Cal/OSHA.

Superior Court Judge William A. Mayhew signed off on the deal Dec. 30.

Domen also received a $300,000 lump sum as well as $5,000 a month in worker's compensation for an unspecified amount of time.

On March 24, 2007, Domen was cleaning the inside of a "conomill," a batter-sifting machine when a rotating paddle in the machine caught Domen's left arm and amputated it at the shoulder.

A report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that employees weren't properly trained in how to lock a machine so that it couldn't begin operating while being cleaned or repaired.

OSHA's report also found a broken switch that was supposed to stop the machine from operating in such a situation.

Read the full story at the Modesto Bee.