“A Wooster man faces criminal charges after he broke into an electroplating company he once owned and drilled holes in tanks of dangerous chemicals, Cleveland police investigators said.
The incident sent one employee to the hospital for exposure to toxic chemicals, and risked a potential environmental disaster, according to a Cleveland police report.
Benjamin Dagley, 50, is charged with breaking and entering in the Aug. 22 incident at Cleveland Plating on East 134th Street in the South Collinwood neighborhood.
Dagley was identified in police reports as a former co-owner of the business, but court records indicate he owned a similar electroplating company at the same location before Cleveland Plating took over, and he still owns the property itself.
Employees called police around 8 p.m. Aug. 22 after a security guard discovered gas escaping in one of the facility’s chemical rooms.
Surveillance footage later revealed Dagley drilled into tanks of sodium cyanide, hydrochloric acid, yellow chromate, ferrous chloride, and sulfuric acid, according to a current owner, Ed Cochran.
“If you mix the (cyanide and hydrochloric acid), you basically have the cyanide gas of World War I,” Cochran said. “It certainly would produce a toxic vapor that could kill.”
Employees told police that the released chemicals “are severe enough to cause a large scale catastrophe, and Dagley knew what he was doing,” the report says.
Potential cyanide poisoning is the reason why the 27-year-old security guard who found the leaks was taken to University Hospitals, according to Cochran and the report.
Her injuries and current condition were not immediately available, but Cochran believes she has been released from the hospital.
Firefighters and a hazmat specialist went to the building the night of the break-in, and Cleveland police and firefighters also notified the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the report says.
Cochran told cleveland.com that the business hired a hazmat firm to oversee clean-up. Within 36 hours, that process was complete and the Ohio EPA determined all chemicals were contained inside the building, with no exposure to the neighborhood, according to an EPA spokesman.
The police report does not say how Dagley managed to break into the building. Surveillance showed him walking into the property around 6 p.m., drilling holes into the containers, then leaving about 15 minutes later, the report says.
“Thank god we have security guards there 24/7,” Cochran said. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been discovered until (the next morning), and it would’ve been late.”
A warrant was issued for Dagley last week, but he hasn’t been arrested, court records show.
Police didn’t outline a possible motive and Cochran declined to share details due to a pending civil case in Wayne County.
Court records there and in Cuyahoga County indicate that Dagley and his companies are locked in a financial dispute over the property, its mortgage, and Cleveland Plating’s lease, among other things.
“He wants us to settle and we won’t pay, that’s why I think he’s done all this,” Cochran said.
Cleveland Plating’s current owners asked a judge for a temporary restraining order against Dagley earlier this year, saying that he entered the building April 8 and put locks on almost all the doors, court records show. The judge denied that request.
About two months later, Dagley was charged with misdemeanor assault after he returned to the property with two other people and broke into the business through a roll door, the reports and court documents say.
A security guard told police that an irate Dagley yelled at him through a crack in an office door, then slammed the door into his knee and punched him in the mouth, the report says.
One of the other men said he rode to the business with Dagley that day to “help him lock the building up,” the report says.
The assault case is still pending in Cleveland Municipal Court, court records show. Dagley’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 7.”