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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Courthouse News Service
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Omaha public utility sued in connection to 2020 house explosion that killed three

The suit, which also names two private companies, alleges the Metropolitan Utilities District did not properly odorize its gas or install an excess flow valve leading to the home.

OMAHA, Neb. (CN) — The special administrator of the estates of three people killed in a house explosion that shook the city's south side filed a wrongful death suit Monday alleging negligence by the Omaha area's public gas utility — the fifth-largest of its kind in the United States — and two private companies led to the blast.

The explosion occurred the morning of Dec. 8, 2022, at 4810 S. 51st Street, in the city's Meadow Crest subdivision, a neighborhood of modest single-story homes that date to the late 1950s. Theresa Toledo and Angela Miller died at the scene. Alexander Toledo was taken to a burn unit in the Kansas City area and died there the next day.

In the suit, Marguerite Gormley, the special administrator, says the utility — the Metropolitan Utilities District, more commonly known by its acronym M.U.D. — did not perform adequate testing of its natural gas to determine if it was properly odorized, did not warn its customers about the characteristics of the odorant it used, and did not install an excess flow valve leading to the home or advise its customers of the benefits of such a valve.

According to the suit, Gormley is the daughter of Theresa Toledo, the sister of Angela Miller and an aunt of Alexander Toledo. News reports at the time listed Theresa Toledo's age as 74; Angela Miller, Toledo's daughter as 45, and Alexander Toledo, Theresa Toledo's grandson and Angela Miller's son, as 28. Larry Rodriguez, 72, Theresa Toledo's partner, was in the home at the time and was treated for injuries.

The suit also says the meter and regulator associated with the piping was installed in 1959 — more than 60 years before the explosion.

According to an e-mailed statement from M.U.D spokeswoman Tracey Christensen: "The District agrees with the State Fire Marshal’s findings that the there was no fault in the operation or maintenance of the gas distribution system by the District and further that there was evidence of tampering and removal of a safety device inside the home. The District looks forward to defending against these allegations."

Gormley is represented by Michael Burg of the Denver firm Burg Simpson. He did not reply to a late-afternoon voicemail seeking comment.

Gormley alleges that Omaha company Thermal Services had a duty, per the district's rules and regulations, to notify M.U.D but did not do so when it installed a new Lennox furnace in the home in February 2020, roughly 10 months prior to the explosion.

Lennox Industries is also named as a defendant in the suit, which says neither company, when the furnace was serviced on Dec. 7, 2020, the day before the blast, ensured the furnace was properly vented to reduce the chances of combustible gases igniting.

Creig Coffman, the CFO of Thermal Services, disputed the allegations but would not comment in depth without speaking with an attorney first. Lennox did not respond to a request for comment.

Also on the day before the explosion, Theresa Toledo filed a protection order against Alexander Toledo, who lived in her basement, according to contemporary news reports. A judge granted the order that day. Omaha homicide detectives said there was no evidence of criminal activity related to gas release in the house, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

M.U.D is the fifth-largest public gas utility in the United States, according to its website. It serves more than 237,000 customers in and around Omaha.

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Categories / Energy, Law, Regional

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