Delaware Circuit Court 3 Judge Robert Barnet Jr. sentenced the Gruppes to 180 days of probation and ordered them to pay $500,000 for an environmental cleanup of CR3, which was destroyed by a tire fire in August of 2003. The judge also ordered the defendants to pay $100,000 into the state’s waste tire fund.
Center Township Trustee Richard Shirey has sued the defendants to recover $100,000 he says the township is owed for fighting the fire at 2501 W. Mount Pleasant Blvd. and for the destruction of some firefighting equipment during the conflagration.
Defense attorney Linda Pence told Barnet that the township was not a victim of the crimes to which the Gruppes and CR3 pleaded guilty: filing a false annual tire summary and illegally storing waste tires in dozens of semitractor-trailers on Sun Air Drive.
"It has always been stated by the prosecutors that this case did not involve the fire," Pence said. "It involved violations of environmental laws."
(One of the original charges against the Gruppes was creating a fire hazard; it was dropped in a plea agreement.)
In addition, Pence said the township was not entitled to impose a service charge for fighting the fire because it was not related to a fuel spill, a chemical release or hazardous materials.
Asked by Pence whether waste tires were classified as hazardous waste, Center Township Fire Chief Jeff Stigall testified, "Not in their natural state."
Stigall added that a laboratory identified 16 chemicals stored at CR3 at the time of the fire. As a result of those chemicals, several firefighters who responded to the CR3 blaze required hospital treatment, Stigall said.
Civil court, not criminal court, is the proper forum in which the township deserves to have its claim heard, Pence said.
While the township has brought a lawsuit against CR3 to recover damages, the township is "very concerned" that CR3’s insurance carrier will decide not to pay any judgment on behalf of CR3 and the Gruppes because of their criminal activity, said John Shanks, a lawyer representing the township.
Judge Barnet denied the township’s request that he order the criminal defendants to make restitution to the township. Barnet said he was hesitant to interfere in the civil lawsuit. He also said he was limited by the facts and the law.