Family of deceased woman files lawsuit in Imperial Cleaners situation

The alley between Imperial Cleaners and WPOCS building.

By Paige Nash

Webster Parish Police Jury (WPPJ) along with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and William T. Taylor, owner of Imperial Dry Cleaners and Laundry are being sued.  

In a petition filed on May 5, 2023, with Webster Parish Clerk of Court, family members of deceased Debra K. Dick of Minden are suing for damages. Petitioners include Ellis R. Dick, widower of Debra, and daughters of the deceased, Kaylin L. Chanler and Holly L. Holtzclaw. 

The petitioners are taking wrongful death action against the defendants seeking damages including loss of love, personal grief, loss of financial support, medical expenses, funeral expenses, conscious physical and mental agony, pain and suffering that Debra experienced before she succumbed to her fatal illness and other losses allowed by law. 

It states in the petition that Debra Dick was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in February 2021 and passed away in May of 2022. Prior to her death, she worked at Webster Parish Office of Community Services (WPOCS) for more than 25 years. WPOCS, owned by the WPPJ, is located directly behind the Imperial Cleaners building with Dick’s office facing the alleyway between her office and the cleaner’s building located at 211 Pennsylvania Ave. It is mentioned in the petition that she often worked with her office window raised.  

Shortly after the death of her mother, her daughter Kaylin, became aware of the contamination leaking from underground storage tanks on the cleaner’s property. This contamination included many carcinogens, and it was believed this attributed to her mother’s health.  

In April 2022, letters were mailed and posted to the front doors of local businesses warning them of the high concentration of tetrachloroethylene and other potentially harmful chemicals. This was caused by an improperly disposed solvent often used in the dry cleaning business.

Previously, Dr. Brian Salvatore, chemistry professor at LSU-S, expressed concern over the high level of the toxins that were 1,000 times above safe levels and the daily exposure of the chemicals to people who work and resided near the cleaners’ building.  

Soon after Kaylin Chanler discovered the condition in which her mother had been working for more than 25 years, she became concerned that her mother’s cancer may have been caused by her exposure to these toxins. It states in the petition that her mother had not been notified of these conditions by either the police jury or LDEQ. It also states that many other employees that work in the office have also been diagnosed with serious medical conditions including cancer.  

In June of 2022, LDEQ entered into a contract with WPPJ to investigate the property and to conduct any remedial activities on the property that were deemed necessary.   

William T. Taylor, heir and owner of Imperial Cleaners and Laundry, along with WPPJ are being sued for failure to notify tenants and employees of the dangerous work conditions, failure to take precautions and failure to remedy the situation and in turn were the proximate cause of Dick’s injuries and illness that ultimately caused her death.  

LDEQ and its management are being sued for failure to perform adequate tests or take remedial action on the property in a timely manner.  

(This is an active lawsuit, therefore, Webster Parish Police Jury members and representatives of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality are currently unable to comment. Imperial Cleaners owner William T. Taylor has not been reachable over the duration of these proceedings.)