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PORTAGE -- Don Wilson was almost more excited about the progress of his newly formed Jobs for the Disabled Enterprises on Friday than he was receiving word he'd won a $1.6 million legal settlement.

Wilson, 49, was injured June 17, 1996, after an explosion and fire at Roll Center, Inc. in Gary after an electro-discharge texturing machine malfunctioned. He was burned over 30 percent of his body and spent 16 days in the hospital, followed by months of rehabilitation.

His attorney, Kenneth J. Allen, said Friday that Wilson was awarded the damages from Sarclad, Inc., the British manufacturer of the machine designed to put a textured coating on large steel rolls. Allen does not expect the company to appeal.

According to the lawsuit, the machinery was defective because it was not designed with necessary flame-suppression features, permitted static electricity to build up in the hydraulic lines and lacked adequate warnings that sparks caused when the hydraulic tank was opened could result in a serious explosion or fire.

"It is a reasonable settlement and a fair one," Allen said, explaining state law prevented Wilson from suing his employer because of the accident. Part of his settlement will go to the company to repay benefits paid to Wilson after the accident.

"I'm glad it's over. The pressure is off," Wilson said. A trust has been established with the settlement that will provide for himself, his wife, Yvonne, their children and grandchildren, he said.

"It is nice. We'll be able to take care of the house, bring it up to 2000. Yvonne and I never had a honeymoon. I think we're going to take a cruise," he said.

Despite the settlement victory, Wilson wanted to talk about his nonprofit group, which was formed earlier this year to help disabled young adults meet their potential.

Wilson's goal for Jobs for the Disabled Enterprises is to identify disabled young adults, test them to determine what they can do, talk to them to determine what they want to do and then work to place them in that type of job or schooling.

Wilson, who said he has plans to open an office, has spent nearly six years establishing a support group for burn victims. He also started Jobs for the Disabled Enterprises while working toward a bachelor's degree in social work at Purdue North Central in Westville.

Joyce Russell can be reached at joycer@howpubs.com or (219) 762-4334.

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