Bledsoe Family buries brother as another fights on, 12 years after Kingston spill

The Bledsoes have two brothers suffering from a disease they say could’ve been avoided. Now, they’ve laid one of those brothers to rest.
Published: Aug. 30, 2020 at 11:46 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2020 at 10:40 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The court battles over the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill continue as dozens of local families mourn their dead relatives.

The Bledsoes have two brothers suffering from a disease they say could’ve been avoided. Now, they’ve laid one of those brothers to rest.

“He loved John Wayne he loved NASCAR he loved U-T. He loved his church and his wife so much, they were best friends,” said Julie Bledsoe.

Julie Bledsoe has been doing a lot of comforting lately. Her brother-in-law Doug lost his cancer battle in the middle of August of 2020. She’s worried about Doug’s widow Johnnie.

“And the hardest thing is not gonna be seeing him by her side,” Julie said.

Doug was a stuntman before taking to the trades.

More than a decade ago, and continuing for several years, Doug drove a water truck for TVA’s subcontractors, keeping the fly ash at Kingston wet. But in the last weeks,“I watched his nephews lift him up out of his hospital bed and put him on the gurney to go to the funeral home. And they they loved him so much,” Julie said.

“We extend our sympathies to the Bledsoe family,” a TVA spokesperson told WVLT News. “The safety of our workers – both our employees and contract workforce – is always TVA’s highest priority. We take every precaution necessary to keep our workers safe during our operations.”

Julie told WVLT’s Ben Cathey, “These people were denied basic respiratory protection.”

That’s what dozens of families say in lawsuits that their health problems - and eventual deaths – were connected to a lack of protection at the Kingston cleanup.

In one case not involving the Bledsoes, a jury found Jacobs Engineering responsible for causing health problems. Jacobs was TVA’s contractor on the Kingston clean-up.

Julie wants people to remember Doug as a helper, someone with well-earned calluses.

“The preacher at the (Doug’s) funeral said you know one time he was stranded on the lake and here he comes back on a boat, you know to get a boat started,” Julie said.

The Bledsoes have been hit twice by respiratory illness.

“I never dreamed, he would have a diagnosis of COPD because he’s never smoked a day in his life,” Julie said. “He’s always been, you know, taking care of himself.”

Julie’s talking about her husband Ron - who also worked at the clean up site. Julie said a third Bledsoe brother, Mike, also worked on the Kingston job site.

“So we have to be very careful about him getting sick, he is changed his life completely,” Julie said.

The family man and movie lover kept fighting until this month.

“And his one regret from those days is he never got to meet John Wayne,” Julie Bledsoe said.

He was buried in a military service, with the American flag neatly draped over his casket.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is mostly protected from lawsuits, LMU law professor Steward Harris tells WVLT News. The concept is called ‘sovereign immunity.’ In recent legal proceedings, contractors like Jacobs have sought to align themselves as part of a larger governmental cleanup.

Doug Bledsoe worked for a subcontractor on the Jacobs site.

WVLT News asked Jacobs Engineering for comment several times over the the last two weeks, both by phone and email, but got no response.

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