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Plant owner on trial for gunpowder blast deaths

Special to the Union Leader

September 30. 2013 6:42PM

LANCASTER — Two North Country men killed in a 2010 explosion at a Colebrook gunpowder plant died for one reason, a Coos County prosecutor said Monday.

"Greed. That age-old motivating factor," John McCormick told a superior court jury at the manslaughter and negligent homicide trial of former plant owner Craig Sanborn.

Donald Kendall, 56, of Colebrook and Jesse Kennett, 49, of Stratford had been on the job for only a month when an explosion at Sanborn's Black Mag plant killed them.

McCormick said Craig Sanborn had decided to save money by skipping safety measures, including "meaningful protective gear and training," and instead focused on what McCormick said was the unrealistic goal of producing 50,000 pounds of gunpowder in a year to fill a lucrative contract he'd signed with a cartridge manufacturer.

McCormick said Sanborn misled his employees and the public about the danger involved, while touting the employment he was bringing to the community.

"It's gunpowder; it explodes. He knew of the substantial and real risk of placing those men there unprotected," the prosecutor told the 14 jurors, including two alternates.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration found more than 50 health and safety violation at Black Mag after the explosion, with the company agreeing to pay $1.2 million in penalties. But Judge Peter H. Bornstein ruled prior to the trial that the jury will not hear about that agreement.

Sanborn's attorney, Mark Sisti of Chichester, said skirting safety measures and regulations was not the cause of the explosion.

"How did this building explode? Not getting a license to store explosives didn't cause the explosion. It could've been workers that day that caused the explosion. There are many, many, many possibilities," Sisti said.

The May 14, 2010, explosion at the plant at 23 Gould St. forced the evacuation of dozens of homes and businesses; firefighters couldn't get near the plant for hours due to the continued explosions.

Sisti urged jurors not to make up their minds until they'd heard all of what's expected to be extensive evidence.

"Keep an open mind," he said. "I know it's tough in cases like this, because you have two fellas who are dead now."

He pointed out that the 64-year-old Sanborn, of Maidstone, Vt., was at a National Rifle Association-sponsored event in Charlotte, N.C., on the day of the blast.

"He wasn't there to control the employees or the process; he was 1,000 miles away," Sisti said. "Craig couldn't have controlled what caused the explosion."

The indictments a grand jury handed up last year said Sanborn negligently engaged in the manufacture, production, testing and storage of explosive materials. Sanborn has pleaded not guilty to two counts each of manslaughter and negligent homicide.

More than 60 witnesses could be called to testify in the case. The trial is expected to run at least halfway through

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