South County Lumber Company to Pay $375K Over Saw Mill Death

A Morgan Hill-based lumber company reached a $375,000 settlement agreement with a northern California county over the death of a sawmill employee in 2013.

The April 25 settlement with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office resolves a lawsuit that office filed against Pacific States Industries that alleged unlawful business practices and violations of worker safety laws in relation to the death, according to a statement from Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch.

“Sonoma County businesses must put safety first, before profits,” Ravitch said in a press release. “To do otherwise is to maintain unlawful business practices with an unfair advantage over businesses that are following worker safety laws.”

The DA filed an unlawful business practices complaint in 2016, following a 2014 referral for prosecution by the California Office of Occupational and Safety Hazards (Cal-OSHA), reads the press release. That referral followed the death of millwright Raul Lule at Pacific State Industries’ McCray Road sawmill in Cloverdale on April 10, 2013.

Pacific States Industries is better known as Redwood Empire Wholesale Lumber Products. The company’s headquarters is located on Madrone Avenue in Morgan Hill.

Bill Highsmith, Redwood Empire General Manager, said in a statement that the April 25 settlement with the Sonoma County DA is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing on the part of Pacific States Industries.

“Under the agreement, Pacific States Industries will continue, as in the past, to enforce all regulations pertaining to workplace safety in its operations,” Highsmith said.

Cal-OSHA’s report suggested the Lule died in a bark conveyor that the employees regularly walked on while unclogging jammed timber material, the DA’s press release continues. The DA’s office conducted an investigation, and identified a “culture of production over safety at the mill.”

The DA also found that Redwood Empire’s two other facilities in Sonoma County did not have written procedures to guide employees working on and cleaning machinery and equipment, including the bark conveyor where Lule died.

The DA noted that the California Code of Regulations requires that companies have written procedures for employees who work on machinery and equipment. Employees are required by state law to shut off machinery and equipment before they service or otherwise work on it if the machinery or equipment could move and cause injury.

Under the April 25 settlement, Pacific States Industries and Sonoma County agreed that Pacific States will improve its safety protocol, including maintaining written procedures for employees at the company’s three Sonoma County locations, the DA’s release states.

Furthermore, Pacific States agreed to pay a total of $375,000 in penalties and restitution, according to the DAs office. Of that amount, Lule’s wife and children will receive $177,500. The DAs office will receive $197,500 for investigative costs and penalties.


  1. > Of that amount, Lule’s wife and children will receive $177,500. The DAs office will receive $197,500 for investigative costs and penalties.

    Seems odd to me that the DA’s office would get involved in cases where they receive “cost recovery”. That would seem to be the “business model” for private attorney on a contingency arrangement.

    I would have thought that the business of a public litigator would be “justice” rather than cost optimization.

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