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Federal Indictment for Fish Kill Polluters

Cyanide identified as cause of April fish kill in Rocky River; Grafton couple indicted (video)

James F. McCarty, The Plain Dealer By James F. McCarty, The Plain Dealer
on October 10, 2012 at 4:45 PM, updated October 10, 2012 at 7:02 PM
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Fish Kill Rocky River Fish kill in Rocky River State wildlife officials count the dead fish, including a 19-inch trout, in the East Branch of the Rocky River on Monday, April 23, a full day after thousands of fish were killed near Bonnie Park in the Mill Stream Run Reservation. Most of the dead fish had been washed away by the swift current, officials said Watch video

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Federal authorities accused a Grafton couple Wednesday of causing a massive fish kill in the Rocky River by dumping 55 gallons of toxic cyanide into a storm sewer last spring.

A grand jury returned indictments against Renato Montorsi, 79, and his wife Teresina, 74, on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Renato Montorsi also is accused of violating the Clean Water Act.

"Mr. Montorsi chose to use the river behind us as his own dump," said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach at a news conference at the Rocky River Nature Center. "Nearly every fish in a three mile stretch -- about 30,000 -- were killed."

On April 22 -- Earth Day -- tens of thousands of dead and dying fish, ... along three miles of the East Branch of the Rocky River between the Bonnie Park Picnic Area and Wallace Lake in Berea.

Crews from federal and state government agencies and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District converged to clean up the carnage in the vicinity of the Mill Stream Run Reservation. The sewer district also used dye testing in nearby tributaries to determine the source of the chemical spill and the identity of the toxin.

Dead fish are sorted by type as they were pulled out from the Rocky River in April 2012. State and local officials were investigating a fish kill believed to have originated somewhere in Strongsville.

Investigators focused their search on the area of Pearl Road and Progress Drive in Strongsville. The investigation was assisted by tips from the public and information from one anonymous source, officials have said.

The Montorsis own a coin and precious metal business, Kennedy Mint Inc., on Pearl Road. They previously owned a metal-plating company at the same location that used cyanide, Dettlebach said.

According to Dettelbach, Renato Montorsi attempted to dispose of a 55-gallon drum of cyanide in a municipal trash receptacle, but the garbage collectors refused to accept the highly toxic liquid.

Environmental regulations call for cyanide to be removed by specialists licensed to handle hazardous chemicals, and disposed of at designated waste-processing facilities.

Rather than complying with the law, Dettelbach said, Montorsi rolled the drum to a storm sewer, punctured the side of the drum with a spike and let the contents drain into the sewer. The cyanide eventually poured into the Rocky River.

The stricken stretch of the river is popular with sports fishermen. Included among the nearly 30,000 dead river inhabitants were thousands of game fish, including rainbow and steelhead trout, small-mouth bass, minnows, shiners, rainbow darters, sunfish, shad, and suckers.

While most of the dead fish had little commercial value, big-mouth shiners are on Ohio's threatened species list, and the penalty for killing them is $1,000 per fish. Dozens of dead shiners were collected from one location.

The Metro Parks stock the East Branch of the Rocky River each spring with thousands of rainbow trout, and were nearly finished when the fish kill occurred. The last load of farm-raised trout fingerlings were released in Wallace Lake instead.

Dettelbach credited the indictments to the investigation by the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Cleveland Metroparks.

The Montosis were not arrested, but will be required to answer to the charges in federal court in Cleveland at a later date, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office.

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