ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - A man accused of dumping thousands of gallons of diesel fuel in Thomasville which caused a school to shut down entered a guilty plea in the case, according to Charles Peeler, the United States attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
Peeler said Jaron Coleman, 40, of Oakville, pleaded guilty to the unauthorized discharge of oil in the waters of the United States.
The fuel was dumped near Hall Road and Highway 319 in April 2018.
Students were evacuated from Garrison-Pilcher Elementary as a precaution and taken to the Thomas County Central High School gym to be released to their parents when fuel was discovered in ditches near the school.
Fire officials said it appears that the diesel was dumped in a ditch on Hall Road.
Officials said the first point of impact was the retention pond behind Murphy USA gas station off Highway 319.
From there, it spread under the road and drained into a nearby creek.
Environmental experts were called in to get the area cleaned and replace the soil. Rocks are now on the ditch where the diesel was.
The initial response of trying to contain the spill was incurred by the county, a dollar figure they estimate less than $20,000.
Murphy USA will be reimbursing the county for that expense since it occurred on their property but starting their own investigation into how the diesel was spilled and who did it.
EMA officials said there is a lot that goes into restoration after a spill like that.
Investigators said surveillance video showed Coleman dumping 3,000 gallons of diesel into a retention area at Murphy USA gas station on April 16, 2018.
Coleman admitted that he dumped the fuel on the ground near the gas station in Thomasville after he realized he had loaded the wrong product for a delivery in Pelham, Peeler’s office stated.
Coleman was working for Eco Energy and did not have any permit or authorization to discharge the diesel fuel, according to a press release from Peeler’s office.
The creek the fuel spilled into 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 is 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.
“Illegal dumping into our waterways damages one of our most precious resources. Its harmful repercussions flow well beyond the confines of the initial dump site,” said Peeler. “We want the public to know that dumping is illegal and can carry serious consequences, including federal prosecution. I want to thank the EPA for its efforts to quickly respond to, investigate and clean up this mess.”
“The illegal discharge of fuel can threaten human health and damage the environment,” said Andy Castro, special agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Georgia. “EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to enforcing environmental laws to protect our communities.”
Coleman’s sentencing date has not yet been set.