Lumber company sued for logging accident
OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
Sept. 11, 1999
©1999 San Francisco Examiner
Protester's parents say Pacific Lumber caused son's death
The parents of the man who was crushed to death by a felled tree while
protesting Pacific Lumber Co.'s logging of ancient Redwoods have sued the
Northern California firm alleging the company caused his death.
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, claims Pacific
should have known protesters were on its property but failed to take
safety precautions, leading to the death last year of environmentalist David
Nathan Chain in the Headwaters Forest.
"I think my son would still be alive today except for the way they
their policy," said his father, David Allen Chain, a paint supervisor
for a firm
that makes oil tanks in Pasadena, Texas, near Houston. "They ought to be
responsible for it."
The complaint claims Pacific Lumber officials also knew that the logger who
cut the fatal tree soon after threatening Chain had violent tendencies,
to control him.
The logger, Arlington Earl "A.E." Ammons, was aware that the protesters were
around and felled the tree "at the activists," out of the usual order
warning, it says.
Ammons and his assistant, Rhett Reback, had a radio and a cell phone and
have called security personnel to remove the activists, it says.
John Campbell, Pacific Lumber's president, said Friday he would not comment
on the complaint until he had read it. But he noted that the Humboldt County
district attorney and sheriff had investigated and declined to file
the firm or its employees.
"It's flat out ridiculous," Reback, 21, said when told of the suit. "We
had no clue
that they were out there. We didn't do nothing unusual in any way about
"There is no way that any us who work out in the woods would intentionally
hurt an Earth Firster, even though we don't like them," he added.
Ammons, 52, could not be reached for comment Friday. He has previously said
he thought the activists had left, that he yelled a warning before
cutting the tree
and didn't mean to hit them with it.
The complaint accuses Scotia-based Pacific Lumber, Campbell, Ammons and
Reback of the wrongful death of Chain, negligence and violations of the
Civil Rights Act, a state law that bars violence based on race, religion or
political affiliation. It seeks an unspecified amount for medical and
costs and other damages.
The suit contends Pacific Lumber encouraged the anti-logging protests in a
scheme to enhance the perceived value of the Headwaters Forest and boost the
price state and federal officials paid for the property.
Federal and state officials paid $480 million in March as part of deal
land, which boasts one of the world's last large groves of ancient
Campbell called the contention that the firm had encouraged protests
"nonsense." He countered that Chain and the other protesters "were
and were trained by Earth First."
Eureka lawyer Steven Schectman, who brought the suit on behalf of Chain's
parents, acknowledged that Chain and the other protesters were trained in
nonviolent civil disobedience by Earth First, an environmental group
sit-ins on lumber company property.
But while Chain was ready to accept the legal consequences of trespassing,
Schectman said, "you don't get a free pass to kill somebody for trespass."
Chain, who was 24 years old and had planned to go to medical school, was
killed Sept. 17, 1998, when he and seven other protesters hiked onto Pacific
Lumber property to protest what they believed was illegal logging, the
They were part of a decade-long tradition of environmental protest in which
activists have trespassed more than 17,000 times on Pacific Lumber property,
resulting in more than 2,500 trespass citations, it says.
No activist was ever convicted for an act of violence or resisting
arrest, the suit
says, though Pacific Lumber employees often engaged in violence against
"Death, however, was not the result of any of these actions, and
activists did not
anticipate death as one of the risks" of protesting, it says.
Despite the annual protests, Pacific Lumber refused to set an adequate
how employees should safely handle encounters with activists, it says.
Campbell has previously said the firm's policy requires employees to notify
their supervisors when they see activists and to refrain from
The morning he died, Chain and his fellow protesters encountered Ammons and
Reback cutting trees.
The activists approached Ammons in a peaceful way to try to get them to stop
logging, the suit says. But Ammons responded by screaming obscenities and
violent threats and chasing them.
Within an hour, Ammons cut a 120-foot redwood tree that killed Chain,
Pacific Lumber never disciplined Ammons, even though his threats of physical
violence were recorded on videotape, it says.
Ammons had often boasted that he would hurt or kill any activists around his
logging operations, it says, but the firm "continued to . . . allow him
to work in
an environment that could offer him the opportunity to act upon his
threats of death and violence towards activists."
©1999 San Francisco Examiner Page A 4
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