Growing Up in a Close Family
Eva Rowe was raised by loving parents, James and Linda Rowe in Hornbeck Louisiana. She was no different than teenager that you might meet at McDonald’s or at a high school football game. Her greatest joy was sharing time with her dad fishing at Toledo Bend Lake in Louisiana, 20 minutes from her home. In fact, you might say she born fishing. While at the lake her mother felt the contractions of Eva coming into the world; and Eva arrived just as her mom reached the hospital.
Eva grew up in many places around the United States. Her father was a skilled and respected construction foreman. Due to demand and opportunity, the family lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas and, of course, Louisiana.
As a teenager, Eva’s happiest times were the days at Toledo Bend Lake with her mom, dad and older brother Jeremy. Her parents were her role models, and Jeremy was her best friend. Together, they would fish, laugh and share those precious moments only someone from a very close family would understand. When not fishing, Eva also enjoyed shopping trips to the mall with her mom. She loved to try on and sometimes buy shoes. While at the mall, she and her mom might take in a movie. Her favorite was Forrest Gump.
Every summer, when not fishing, the family would vacation together. They visited Northern California to see the giant Sequoias, took a Bahamian cruise and traveled to Washington, DC to experience the history of our nation. Eva was most taken by their visit to Arlington Cemetery. She was inspired by both the beauty and by the enormity of the tribute America had given our brave sons and daughters who had sacrificed their lives for our country. During these trips, the family would sing along to her parent’s favorite band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Even today, Lynyrd Skynyrd remains her favorite band, along with the Beaumont, Texas band Image 6.
As a teenager, Eva loved school and loved eating what any Louisiana teenager finds irresistible – pizza, crawfish, steak and her favorite, McDonald’s biscuits. Fortunately and unfortunately, she loved both too much. Eva graduated from high school one year early, with a 3.96 GPA. Jeremy remained her best friend throughout high school and she worked hard to graduate with him. Her mother, a very special lady, taught at her school working with students in the Head Start program. But Eva’s love of food added a lot of weight to a very slight girl. After high school, she started a diet with a determination that would reappear in 2006. Eva dropped 130 pounds, primarily by cutting out all of her favorite foods and drinking Diet Coke.
Two Years Later – Life Turns Tragic
It is the morning of Good Friday 2005.Eva is driving to Texas City with her aunt, looking forward to sharing Easter weekend with family and friends. Her parents are working as subcontractors for J.E. Merit Constructors Inc. at the BP Chemical Refining plant in Texas City, Texas. Eva is very familiar with the plant, having worked there and is excited about seeing her parents and old friends. Jeremy is living in Minneapolis and doesn’t have the money to join the family for Easter. He has developed kidney disease and is trying to save money for a desperately needed transplant.
Forty-five minutes outside of Texas City, she stops for gas. Inside the mini-mart there is only one topic of conversation. An explosion had occurred four hours earlier at the BP refining plant in Texas City. Her thoughts immediately turn to her parents. Was it near their worksite? She calls their cell phones and no one answers. As her car and heart accelerate, she wonders if they were injured or worse. But in Eva’s heart, she knows.
Arriving in Texas City, Eva immediately drives to her aunt’s sister-in-law’s home. Eva could see the flames from the front window. Local television is focused on the explosion and lists of phone numbers to call for information. Eva calls, and her parents are not among those hospitalized. She then walks to the home of a neighbor who worked at the plant. When Eva knocks on his door, he answers and falls to the floor. He told her they couldn't find her parents. At 4:30am, she calls the JE Merit head office, and is told her parents weren't found alive, and that she should be at the Convention Center a few hours later to help with identifying her parents’ bodies.
One Louisiana Girl Fights a Giant
Eva’s father had raised her to be strong in the face of adversity and great odds. Every night, when she cried herself to sleep, she got mad. And as she got mad, Eva became more determined. She wanted the truth to come out. She was determined that her parents’ deaths must not be in vain.
At the recommendation of friends, Eva hired Beaumont Texas attorney Brent Coon of Brent Coon & Associates. She told Brent she had two goals – the truth must come out and her parents and the other 13 victims must be remembered. In the months that followed, together they become angry at the injustice and got to work. This would truly be David versus Goliath, and not a war for the weak. During the following months, Brent began compiling million of pages of documents. These documents proved that not only did BP know of the risk of an imminent disaster at the Texas City plant, but actually calculated that it would be more cost effective to pay off the victims than to make the repairs that would have saved her parents’ lives.
Eva now finds herself on everyone’s radar screen. She has never been someone to share her life, but getting to the truth was her mission. The media wanted to know more about this one, determined girl who was not afraid of BP. Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes flew to Houston to meet Eva and conduct what would be his final interview. Even though he was very ill, he was determined to tell Eva’s story to the world. And in spite of his own physical pain and knowledge of losing his fight with Leukemia, it was Eva’s story that made this war-hardened reporter cry for the first time during an interview.
BP was not going to lose without a fight. During settlement negotiations, intimidation tactics were a major part of their game plan. Eva was assured that even if she won in court, there could be consequences. She was told by BP that she would be responsible for their court costs if the jury award was less than the settlement offer. At night, Eva would see strangers parked in a car near her home. During the day, she was constantly followed as she tried to live and rebuild her life. At the suggestion of Brent, a bodyguard was hired to be with Eva at all times.
As the trial drew near, settlement talks continued. But there would be no settlement if the truth would be sealed and the victims not remembered. When Ed Bradley asked why she wouldn’t settle, Eva said, “If they were your parents, would you settle?” BP had picked a fight with the wrong girl.
Then on the morning of November 9, 2006, when jury selection was to begin, BP acquiesced. They agreed to release the documents Eva fought so hard to have made public. In addition, a total of $30 million was to be donated to Texas A&M University Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Truman G. Blocker Adult Burn Unit, and the College of the Mainland, in Texas City, in the memory of the 15 victims. And BP would match up to $2 million each for any donations made in the next six months to Texas A&M, UTMB or College of the Mainland, a potential $6 million in additional donations. Eva and Brent have both donated $100,000 to kick off the matching funds programs.
Also, a $1 million donation was to be made to her parents’ favorite charity, the Cancer Center at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., in their memory. And a $1 million donation will be made to the Hornbeck, Louisiana school system in the memory of Mrs. Rowe. Mrs. Rowe was a teacher in the Head Start education program in the Hornbeck school system.
It is true that financially Eva is set for the rest of her life. But this 22 year old woman is still the same 20 year old girl from Hornbeck, Louisiana who drove to Texas City that fateful day. Her close friends remain her close friends. Her favorite pastime is still fishing. She still starts her mornings with a McDonald’ biscuit and relishes her Diet Cokes.
It is also true that Eva’s life has dramatically changed. Today her mission is to mirror her hero Erin Brockovich and focus on a career of fighting for the right for a safe work environment. She plans to be available to those who need help in fighting for their right to earn a fair wage, without risking their lives; and she plans to work closely with her friend and other hero, Brent Coon. Together they are exploring education options, with Eva considering either law school or becoming certified and licensed in work place safety. And because of the settlement, Eva plans to donate both her time (and shoulders to cry on) to those who need her help most.
But Eva and Brent have one more fight and need your help. The Eva Bill (www.theevabill.com) has been drafted and will be introduced in both the United States Congress and the Texas State Legislature. The bill calls for tougher OSHA safety standards and more financial penalties for companies violating OSHA regulations. By contacting your Congressman and U.S. Senator, you can help Eva and Brent stop the culture of “profits over prevention.”
You can also help by donating money to either the Texas A&M University Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Truman G. Blocker Adult Burn Unit or the College of the Mainland, in Texas City. In the settlement, BP agreed to match each dollar contributed before May 2007, up to $2 million at any one of the three organizations.