The driver of a diesel fuel truck who dumped thousands of gallons of diesel fuel onto land draining into a Thomasville, Georgia creek in 2018, shutting down a school and causing a federally-led clean-up, was sentenced for his crime on Thursday, announced Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. Jaron Coleman, 40, of Oakville, Georgia, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on December 12, 2019 by U.S. District Judge Louis Sands. Defendant Coleman previously pleaded guilty to one count of Unauthorized Discharge of Oil in the Waters of the United States on Tuesday, September 10, 2019. There is no parole in the federal system.
According to the Statement of Fact entered in Court, on April 19, 2018, Mr. Coleman admitted that he dumped approximately 3,000 gallons of fuel on the ground near a gas station in Thomasville, Georgia after he realized he had loaded the wrong product for a delivery in Pelham, Georgia. Mr. Coleman, who was working for Eco Energy, did not have any permit or authorization to discharge the diesel fuel. The diesel fuel dumped on the ground migrated into an adjacent storm water drainage system that flows directly into a creek. The unnamed creek is a tributary of Good Water Creek which flows into Oquina Creek and then into the Ochlockonee River, a traditionally navigable water of the United States, and protected by the Clean Water Act. Under the Clean Water Act, diesel fuel is considered “oil” and the amount discharged was a harmful quantity. The discharge caused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to engage in a costly clean-up and caused the evacuation of Garrison Pilcher Elementary School in Thomasville, Georgia on the same day as the incident, after school officials discovered a large amount of diesel fuel had swelled in ditches around the school.
“This defendant harmed the environment, endangered children at a nearby school and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup costs when he selfishly dumped fuel into the waterways of the United States. Our office is committed to enforcing federal laws protecting our natural resources, especially when the health and safety of our citizens are jeopardized. As reflected in this case, the consequences for violating environmental laws can include significant prison time,” said U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler. “I want to thank the EPA for their rapid response cleaning up our waterways and investigating this incident.”
“The defendant’s disregard for the law resulted in an oil spill that contaminated a local stream and triggered the evacuation of an elementary school,” said Special Agent in Charge Andy Castro of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Georgia. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates that EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to enforcing laws designed to protect the health of our communities and our natural resources.”
The case was investigated by the EPA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McCullers prosecuted the case for the Government.