SALT LAKE CITY — A pest control company and its employee — who have been implicated in connection with the deaths of two Layton girls — pleaded not guilty Friday to the federal charges that have been leveled against them.
Raymond Wilson, owner of Bugman Pest and Lawn Inc., and Coleman Nocks, the exterminator who was working for the company, appeared in separate hearings Friday after being named in federal indictments charging them both with three counts of unlawful use of a registered pesticide. The charges stem from the deaths and two other instances where investigators say Fumitoxin pellets were applied around homes in a manner "inconsistent with labeling."
Prosecutors say Nocks, 63, improperly applied Fumitoxin around the home where Rebecca Kay Toone, 4, and her sister, Rachel Ana Toone, 15 months, lived. The girls died within days of the application. Authorities believe the Toone girls might have inhaled phosphine fumes emitted from tablets of Fumitoxin, a rat poison, as the Utah Medical Examiner's Office reported that the girls had elevated levels of phosphorus in their bodies.
Wilson spoke outside of court and said the cause of the girls' deaths was "up for debate." He said the news media has repeatedly reported that Fumitoxin was the cause of death, but he said they fail to acknowledge another incident that may have played a part in the girl's death.
"What the public has never known was that carbon monoxide alarms were going off," he said.
Wilson said emergency responders went to the home and cleared it for carbon monoxide. He said Fumitoxin has a distinctive smell that would have been noticed.
"I don't believe it's been properly pursued," Wilson said. "I feel terrible. I feel terrible for that family, I feel terrible for anyone who would lose their children over an incident related to this — whether it be carbon monoxide or Fumitoxin or any other fumigant or any other product."
But Dennis Keith, who is the bureau manager over emergency response and waste management with the Davis County Health Department, told the Deseret News that responders were able to rule out any carbon monoxide risk. He said the girl's mother noticed the odd smell and tried calling the pesticide company.
Keith's timeline said the mother even placed a phone call to the pest control company to inquire about the fumigant and left a message without getting a reply.
After emergency responders were told a fumigant had been applied near the home, they asked Nocks to return to the home and bring them an invoice detailing what he used.
A civil support team saw the invoice and decided to test for phosphine gas — and it was confirmed.
Wilson said he understands the federal charges have to be answered and said the company will do what they have to do to resolve the case.
"It's been a long year, very tough, but life has to go on," he said.
Dennis James, attorney for the company, said they are "look forward to the jury trial," which was set for May 2.
"Bugman has a long history of safety and adherence to procedures," he said. "There are in-house requirements and there is also a long history of enforcement and discipline of those policies and procedures."
That said, James said any potential plea offer would also be considered.
Nocks appeared just after the company that employed him and also entered a plea of not guilty. Prosecutors told U.S. Magistrate Judge Samuel Alba they will not seek detention in the case. His trial has been set for the same day. Any potential pleas would have to be entered by April 18, Alba said.
Nocks' attorney, Bob Steele, said his client feels "horrible" and continues to be "saddened" by what happened. Nocks had already made numerous appearances in state court before those charges were dropped after the federal indictment was filed.
"He's very worn down," Steele said. "It's going to be an exhausting process. He's doing OK right now. There are two children dead and the allegations are that he had a hand in causing that."
The decision to pursue the case in federal court came after the company, and Nocks, were accused of violations in various jurisdictions.
The Environmental Protection Agency has since banned the residential use of Fumitoxin. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Bennett said proving the girls died as a result of Nocks' use of Fumitoxin isn't required to prove the elements of the charges.
"It's alleged that Mr. Nocks violated the label in four different ways. Specifically he applied the pesticide too close to the home; he applied it when the temperature was too low; he applied it without providing the homeowners with the material safety data sheet, which provides helpful information when someone is exposed to the pesticide; and basically violated those provisions which the label requires," Bennett said.
He said prosecutors simply want to see that justice is served.
"Whether that's a trial or a plea, we just want to see that justice is done."
Nocks faces up to one year in prison and a $25,000 fine as a maximum penalty for each count in the indictment. Bugman Pest and Lawn Inc. could face a fine of $200,000 per count if convicted.