CLINTON — The Iowa Court of Appeals has reversed the verdict in a Clinton County District Court case involving the death of Edward E. Boles in an explosion, and returned the case to Clinton County.

Boles, 29, a Clinton resident and an employee of Philip Services Co., of Camanche, was an explosives supervisor working to clean slag from inside the eighth floor of a power plant boiler in Alma, Wis., when he was killed Aug. 16, 2001.

His estate sued a co-employee, Brian L. Clark, and a jury trial was held here beginning July 5, 2005.

However, after all evidence had been presented, Clark filed a motion for a directed verdict, claiming there was not enough evidence to submit the case to the jury.

Judge James E. Kelley agreed and issued a directed verdict in favor of the defendant.

Boles’ estate appealed, and the Court of Appeals last week said Kelley erred in granting the directed verdict and remanded the case back to Clinton County.

Here are the elements of the case, as contained in the 18-page decision of the high court.

Slag is a by-product of coal burning. It accumulates on pipes and tubes inside a boiler, creating a rock-like substance that must periodically be removed to maintain boiler safety and efficiency.

The job Boles was assigned at the J.P. Madgett Power Plant in Alma was explosive deslaging, which involves placing explosives next to the slag deposits and then detonating them, dislodging the deposits and allowing them to fall to the bottom of the boiler.

On Aug. 16, 2001, Boles was the explosives technician (ET-1) on the job. It was his job to place the explosives and determine when to detonate them.

Shawn Varner was ET-2, with the responsibility of detonating the explosives when ordered to do so by the ET-1.

Clark was the ET-3, whose job was to mix nitromethane and ammonium nitrate into binary explosives as directed by the ET-1, stay at a distance of 25 feet from the blasting and provide general labor for the crew.

To discharge the binary explosive, a blasting cap is attached to the charge, which has a lead line running from it. The lead line is a plastic tube filled with a gunpowder-like substance.

When the explosive is ready to be detonated, the lead line is attached to a mechanical detonator by inserting the line into one end of the detonator.

The detonator is activated by slamming it with a hand. The shotgun primer inside the detonator then creates a spark that ignites the powder that triggers the blasting cap and the explosive charge.

On Aug. 16 Steven Woodhall, the explosive manager, addressed the crew in a “tailgate safety briefing,” according to the Court of Appeals’ review of the case.

Then Woodhall took Varner and Clark aside to discuss their responsibilities and Woodhall told Clark, “You’re not touching the detonator today” and “do not play with it, don’t mess with it, don’t pick it up. Leave it alone. It’s not your job… You don’t know enough about the detonator and how to operate it.”

After the meeting, the crew moved to the sixth floor of the boiler and made a series of shots without incident. They then moved to the eighth floor. The back of the eighth floor had three manholes instead of a series of viewports.

Between each of the manholes was a 15- to 20-foot long soot blower. Because of the noise of the blowers, Boles and Varner established hand signals.

The crew performed several “fish” shots successfully, but as Boles was positioning another shot he signaled for Varner to enter the floor and help him. Varner did so and then began to exit the boiler.

He had taken six or seven steps when he heard a faint air horn sound once and then saw the flash of the lead line and felt an explosion behind and beside him.

He exited the boiler and witnessed Clark pulling the spent lead line out of a manhole. The explosion had killed Boles.

The legal issues

• A major issue was whether Clark was “negligent” or “grossly negligent.” Iowa Code says gross negligence “must amount to wanton neglect for the safety of another.”

“Willful behavior is distinguished from wanton behavior because willfulness is characterized by the intent to injure, whereas wantonness merely implies indifference as to whether the act will injure,” according to a court citation.

The appeals court said Kelley erred when he ruled:

“There is sufficient evidence that Brian Clark voluntarily detonated the explosive by disobeying orders and requirements of his job. But there is not sufficient evidence that this was a conscious exposure of Edward Boles to the peril of the explosive charge being next to his body at the time of detonation.”

The appeals court looked at it this way:

“We define the peril less narrowly than the district court did. In our view, the peril was not the explosive charge being next to Boles’ body at the time of detonation… We believe the peril or hazard was the detonation of a high explosive within a confined space in the vicinity of Boles.”

• The court also said Kelley erred in the parts of a Wisconsin case that he allowed in as testimony.

• A related issue was whether the case should have been tried in Wisconsin, where the death occurred, or in Iowa. Wisconsin law does not recognize “gross” negligence, whereas Iowa law does.

The appeals court noted both parties to the litigation were residents of Iowa, their employer’s primary office is in Camanche, Boles’ estate is an Iowa estate and his only heir lives in Iowa and agreed the litigation should continue to be in Iowa.