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Gloucester County Man Sentenced for Recklessly Causing Oil Spill in Spring Lake

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TRENTON - Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a Gloucester County man was sentenced today for recklessly causing an oil spill last year in Spring Lake and Mantua Creek in Washington Township by using a vacuum tank truck containing an industrial solvent to pump the water from his swimming pool and discharge it into a storm drain. The truck was used to transport a petroleum distillate called “cutting oil,” but the man said he believed it was empty.

John Caldwell, 48, of Washington Township, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson to five years of probation, conditioned upon him performing 150 hours of community service. In addition, Caldwell was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, and he must pay $2,385 in overtime costs for the Washington Township Fire Department. Caldwell pleaded guilty on May 18 to an accusation charging him with violating the Water Pollution Control Act and causing or risking widespread injury or damage, both third-degree crimes.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Barile prosecuted the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Unit, within the Specialized Crimes Bureau. Detective Sgt. Steven Ogulin was the lead detective for the Division of Criminal Justice. The Division of Criminal Justice investigated with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP oversaw cleanup of the spill by a private contractor. Approximately 3,000 gallons of oil were recovered from the lake and the creek. DEP has collected restitution of $229,257 for the cleanup costs and other expenses from an insurer for the company that employed Caldwell and owned the truck. 

In pleading guilty, Caldwell admitted that on June 29, 2014, he recklessly used the vacuum truck to drain the water from his swimming pool and discharge it into a storm drain in front of his house on Uranus Road. In the process, he discharged the cutting oil into the storm drain, which drains to Mantua Creek and Spring Lake. The storm drain had a warning sign: “No Dumping - Drains to Waterway.”

The vacuum truck, which has a 3,600 gallon tank, belongs to Caldwell’s former employer, EISCO. At the time, Caldwell was a truck operator for EISCO who worked at an oil refinery in Philadelphia. EISCO, which has a fleet of vacuum trucks, was contracted to transport cutting oil in connection with tank cleaning operations at the refinery. Caldwell told investigators that when he borrowed the truck from his employer, he believed it was empty. Caldwell was fired from his job after the incident.

The spill was reported later the same day, June 29, by homeowners who observed an oily substance in Mantua Creek and smelled a strong odor of diesel fuel around the creek and Spring Lake, which is near the intersection of Pittman Downer and Fish Pond roads. The DEP and Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Unit responded, along with the Washington Township Fire Department.

Investigators traced the spill to the storm drain in front of Caldwell’s house, where oil staining was observed on the drain and the same diesel fuel odor was noticed. Witnesses were interviewed who had seen the vacuum truck at Caldwell’s house. They had seen a hose going from the vacuum truck to the swimming pool behind the house, and later, a hose from the truck to the storm drain. Investigators spoke to Caldwell, who admitted that he used the vacuum truck to pump out his swimming pool.

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