Lawyers' ads hit nerve with town

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. --- Before the sugar refinery blaze that claimed at least seven lives was snuffed out, the attorneys' advertisements started appearing. The plant's owners have lawyers, one said, adding: "Shouldn't you?"

The circling of lawyers in the aftermath of a tragedy is nothing new, but it has hit a nerve in this town of 5,000, where firefighters still toiled Wednesday to extinguish the last of the flames and search for the remaining body.

Using ads and Web sites, these out-of-state attorneys urge victims of the Imperial Sugar Co. explosion to share their stories. It has enraged some residents and attorneys here, still mindful that the stubborn six-day-old blaze at the refinery continued to burn.

"It's not in the best taste," said Tim Holbrook, the owner of the Deli Mart, a popular eatery in downtown Port Wentworth. "The grieving process has just begun and I think it's very unthoughtful."

The blaze has been so persistent, local officials were forced to call in a specialized firefighting team to subdue the thick masses of molten sugar still bubbling in 80-foot silos at temperatures as high as 4,000 degrees.

Savannah Fire Capt. Todd Heil said crews found another missing body Wednesday in the second-floor break room. The fire has killed seven people and left another person missing. Fire officials said they are confident the last body will be found soon.

None of the victims' names have been released.

The Port Wentworth explosion offers a snapshot of the strategy some trial lawyers employ to troll for plaintiffs with Web sites and advertisements that feature jarring images of the fire.

Mark & Associates, a law firm with offices in New York and Boston, snapped up the www.sugarrefineryexplosion.com domain and outfitted the site with details of the blast, links to news updates -- and a form where victims can share their information with the firm's attorneys.

"If you or a loved one was injured in this explosion, you may have valuable legal rights," it reads.

Dallas lawyer Jeffrey D. Slakter's advertisement includes details of Imperial's financial status -- net sales of more than $875 million -- in a full-page newspaper advertisement.