Eva Pate, the majority owner of Pates Hauling and Demolition, said she looked at white material all over the ground and swaying in the breeze on an unstable wall still standing at the recently demolished old Standard Coosa Thatcher site.
The city had called Pates, with its 25 years of experience, to provide an estimate for cleaning up the "mess" in 2005, she said.
"I was concerned. It resembled asbestos," Pate told a federal jury on Wednesday, recalling what she told the city inspector who'd called her.
"I said, 'I'm not getting out of my car, and I suggest you get back in yours. This is not something I can handle. You'd better call EPA,'" she testified.
Pate was only one of two witnesses to testify Wednesday in federal criminal prosecution of three men and two companies charged with violating the asbestos removal law of the Clean Air Act.
The other witness, Halbert G. Warden, had been the project supervisor for ADC Systems. ADC was the company hired by property owners Gary and Don Fillers to properly remove the asbestos from the older boiler room of the idled textile plant.
Warden testified his father, ADC's manager, priced the boiler room abatement at $28,000. Eventually a change order to accommodate another two pipes brought the total to about $40,000.
A budgetary estimate made two years before by a certified asbestos surveyor totaled more than $214,000, and tallied much more asbestos that needed to be removed than just what was in the boiler room.
But Warden said he was never shown that survey, and when he was hired to do the boiler room cleanup, the law didn't require that he see one.
He said he did mention that he saw other asbestos on the ground around the plant, but a property owners' hired hand forbade him to look for asbestos in other areas. He said he was told it was none of his business.
But defense attorneys for property co-owner Don Fillers, Fillers' hired hand David Wood, demolition contractor James Mathis and the companies of Mathis Cos. and Watkins Street Projects Inc. spent most of Wednesday tearing at Warden's credibility.
They attacked what they called "inconsistencies" in his statements on Wednesday with things he told investigators and a federal grand jury months ago before the defendants were indicted.
The "inconsistencies" included whether his title was supervisor or manager, whether he hired asbestos abatement-certified Hispanic workers or uncertified, illegal aliens, and whether he knew if a certified asbestos survey had been done on the site.
The defense attorneys also asked questions in and out of the jury's hearing about Warden's and his father's criminal history. Warden has been charged with assault and, in 1998, with theft. His father has been convicted of bankruptcy fraud, according to attorneys.
But Warden testified he heard and saw Fillers offer the elder Warden $200 for "ghost bags" of asbestos that defendant Wood and a female worker -- wearing just street clothes -- pulled from pipes in other areas of the plant.
Warden said he later found his black plastic abatement bags marked "Danger" missing. Then his Dumpster mysteriously had more asbestos bags in it than he and his crew had placed there, he testified.
He said he cut a hole in some of the bags to see what was in them, and he found asbestos. He said he patched the cut bags and told his father what was happening. He said when Fillers offered his father the $200 check, his father tore it up.
Pate also testified that Fillers had approached her before about demolition and hauling several months before the city called her to help clean up the site.
For that first request, she said she toured the plant and asked for a copy of the certified asbestos survey. She was told one would be faxed to her. But she said she never received a complete copy. She said that fact -- combined with her tour of the plant -- caused her to decide she really didn't want the job.
Likewise, she said, she didn't want the job when the city called her.
"I knew EPA or somebody was going to have to come clean it up," she testified.
Defense attorneys on Wednesday did not have an opportunity to question Pate, but the trial will resume Tuesday.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...