A jury deliberated about two hours Thursday before ruling the State Ports Authority was not responsible for the death of a worker accidentally crushed by a 20-ton container.

William Edward Holst Jr., 52, a union container checker, was killed as he was moving around tall stacks of container boxes in July 2004 at the Port of Charleston's Wando Welch Terminal.

His widow filed suit, saying the veteran dockworker was a victim of inadequately trained personnel and an overall unsafe workplace. Holst was out of view of a crane operator when a container box was being moved and was placed on top of him.

SPA attorneys argued Holst errantly walked into a dangerous area and should have been alert to the risks when containers are being moved.

Holst's family members gave way to tears after the verdict was read inside the Charleston County Judicial Center.

"We just don't understand it," said Kevin Dean, attorney for Holst's widow. The safety motto had been "always keep a look out for your man," Dean said during his closing argument in the four-day trial.

Ports Authority attorney Randell C. Stoney Jr. said the death was an emotional and tragic accident. "Our heart goes out to the Holst family," he said.

Holst's job as a checker was to the make sure the right container boxes were being sent to the correct assignment. He was a longtime veteran of port work.

Stoney called the accident "a unique injury in the history of the port" where thousands of containers are moved yearly.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or skropf@postandcourier.com.