Utility, Subcontractor Blamed for Explosion

     (CN) – A utility company and its subcontractor are responsible for the death of a woman and the destruction of several houses caused by a gas line explosion, according to a lawsuit.
     The complaint, which tells the tale of a March 2014 explosion in an Ewing, N.J. condominium housing development, was filed last week by Lisa and Christopher Mackin, a couple who were allegedly injured in the blast.
     Public Service Electric & Gas Company was called by one of the development’s residents, Linda Cerritelli, when her electric stopped working, according to the lawsuit. PSE&G determined that the underground conduit and service needed to be replaced. Employees from Henkels & McCoy, also a defendant in the lawsuit, were called to assist in the work.
     Gas and electric lines were identified and miniature flags were placed to mark them, but a perpendicular gas line was allegedly not properly marked by workers.
     When workers began drilling, they cut through the unmarked gas line, causing gas to billow out, the lawsuit states. PSE&G personnel were called in to inspect, but while they were doing so, the released gas accumulated in the homes of Cerritelli and others in the complex. The lawsuit further alleges that, despite knowledge of the released gas, neither PSE&G nor Henkels & McCoy called 911 or evacuated residents.
     Cerritelli’s home exploded after hours of gas being released, leveling it and several houses nearby, including the Mackins’ home. The Mackins were injured in the blast, along with several PSE&G employees. About 20 units were rendered uninhabitable by the blast, according to the complaint.
     “At approximately 1:00 p.m., natural gas has accumulated in sufficient quantities in and around Linda Cerritelli’s home such that it ignited, causing a huge explosion and fireball, leveling multiple homes and ultimately, resulting in the injuries to Lisa and Christopher Mackin, and the damage to their home,” the complaint states.
     More tragically, Cerritelli was reportedly thrown from her apartment onto the roof of her car. Her burned body was found hours later buried under rubble, according to the lawsuit.
     PSE&G was fined $725,000 by the state public utilities board and Henkels & McCoy was fined $600,000. Procedural change at both companies, including emergency training and drills, was also mandated by the board, the lawsuit states. Henkels McCoy has reportedly been cited in the past for safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
     “The tragic loss of life from such an incident and the impact upon the lives of many families, some still not back in their homes, is felt by me and my fellow commissioners,” New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Richard Mroz said in a statement after the fines were levied.
     At the time, a PSE&G spokeswoman called the fines “fair” and said they would lead to “changes in company procedures about how we handle damages to our gas facilities and reports of gas leaks.”
     Cerritelli’s estate filed a lawsuit last year seeking damages. In the course of that case, court documents revealed that utility employees knew they were supposed to evacuate residents but failed to do so.
     PSE&G declined to comment on the lawsuit. A spokesperson from Henkels & McCoy could not be reached for comment.

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