A 4th District jury says a Vineyard chemical company must pay a Pleasant Grove woman more than $21,000 for lung injuries she suffered after inhaling smoke from a 1992 fire at the plant.

The jury decided Wednesday afternoon that Parish Chemical was negligent in circumstances surrounding a fire that started at the plant July 24, 1992, and burned for five days. The jury awarded Sonji Walker $11,700 for lost wages and medical bills and $10,000 in general damages.While Walker was seeking more, her attorney Jeff Peatross said she is happy with the verdict.

"She is pleased with any verdict that recognizes Parish Chemical was negligent and that she was hurt," Peatross said.

Fire investigators ruled the fire broke out in the research laboratory in the northeast corner of Parish Chemical, 145 N. Geneva Road, around noon on July 24. The fire burned for days while police and fire officials tried to determine how to extinguish the blaze without disturbing chemicals stored in the building. Firefighters eventually used foam to smother the fire.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the lead agency that investigated the fire, later said the fire was intentionally set. Orem City's fire report listed the cause as unknown. No one was ever arrested or charged with setting the blaze.

When the fire broke out Walker was working about a half-mile away at a 7-Eleven store. Because of possible toxic smoke, police evacuated residents around the burning building, but the 7-Eleven store was across the street from the evacuation perimeter.

Walker continued to work in the store for five more hours while the fire burned. On her way home from work she became violently ill, she claimed. Her lungs burned and she drove to a nearby hospital where she was treated and released. According to testimony, about 40 nearby residents were treated by local doctors for smoke inhalation resulting from the Parish Chemical fire. Walker claims to suffer from continued shortness of breath whenever she exerts herself.

Parish Chemical says it was not responsible for the fire and that no toxic substances were released into the air as a result of the fire. The chemical company claimed it was not responsible for Walker's injuries because she remained in the smoke-filled area for between four and five hours. The company likely will appeal the verdict.

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A similar lawsuit against Parish Chemical is pending in 4th District Court. Peatross said he has been contacted by other victims and other attorneys interested in possibly filing other claims against Parish.

Wes Parish, owner of the company, was critical of how Orem handled the fire. He said firefighters' concerns about toxic material and explosions were unwarranted and they should have extinguished the fire immediately. He said Orem police and federal drug agents have a vendetta against him.

According to court records, Parish has been the subject of investigations by the IRS; the Drug Enforcement Agency; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. attorney's office.

Parish said he once worked as an undercover agent for the DEA that included pretending to manufacture controlled substances, selling precursor chemicals to individuals who used them to make illegal drugs and posing as an illegal drug distributor. He said DEA officials later accused him of selling precursor chemicals out the back door. Parish said he has never sold precursor chemicals to illegal drugmakers unless told to do so by the DEA. He quit working for the DEA in 1989, he said.

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