Defense Begins in Gas Explosion Trial

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Defense Begins in Gas Explosion Trial

WATERLOO, Iowa — Investigators hired by a propane company following a May 2008 explosion at a Hudson home said the gas leak was caused by an overtightened nut.

Donna Firgard is taking New Century FS to court claiming the business failed to provide adequate warnings about the shortcomings of propane odorant and the need for gas detectors.

The blast happened when she went into the basement to light a pilot light on the water heater. It leveled her house and left her with second- and third-degree burns.

On Tuesday, officials for Advanced Engineering Investigators of Littleton, Colo., said the underground copper gas line was severed in December 2002 when a plumbing company was placing plastic water or sewer pipe in the yard. The plumbing company repaired the line but overtightened a flare nut using a pipe wrench, Dennis Shelp of AEI told jurors.

He said the fix eventually failed, causing the gas leak.

Firgard’s attorneys challenged Shelp’s conclusion, noting the nut could have failed because of corrosion or a manufacturing defect.

Shelp said the leak was about 75 feet from the house, and it would have released about 70 gallons of vapor — or two 35-gallon garbage bags — into the air every hour.

He said the leak wouldn’t have been considered major, but the line was shrouded in drain tile, which he said directed gas toward the house when the area had heavy rains.

Also testifying for New Century’s defense was John Freeman Jr., also of AEI. He said safety information distributed by New Century was consistent with the customs and practices of the propane industry.

AEI officials also testified they couldn’t rule out the water heater as a source of a gas release because the appliance had been damaged in the explosion.
By JEFF REINITZ, [email protected]