DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Nearly three years after an explosion killed a 12-year-old Dallas girl, federal investigators are pointing fingers at Atmos Energy and making recommendations for Atmos, the Railroad Commission of Texas, and Dallas Fire-Rescue.
Linda “Michellita” Rogers died in February 2018 when her family home exploded killing her and injuring her mother and father.
The National Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt started Tuesday’s virtual hearing stating it was the first time the board had been able to meet with their investigators.
“I offer our condolences to the family…” stated Chairman Sumwalt.
The NTSB board members listened to each NTSB investigator discuss the February 23, 2018 explosion.
The board later announced that gas in this Dallas neighborhood leaked from a main damaged during a sewer replacement project 23 years ago.
It was undetected during Atmos’ investigation of two related natural gas explosions in Roger’s neighborhood just days before the blast inside their home.
Investigators say Atmos should have isolated and evacuated the area following the first incidents. “The day before the explosion Atmos had four grade one leaks and nine grade two leaks in an eight-block area which would later become the sight of the explosions- any thoughts about that?” asked Chairman Sumwalt. His investigator responded, “That’s a lot of leaks.”
The federal team made 22-findings including safety issues with the incident investigation, repairs, incident reporting, integrity management and methane detection, an odor fade issue.
Adding to the numerous problems, over the years, the soil in this Dallas-area absorbed the odorant caring that rotten egg smell which alerts consumers to gas leaks. It’s a phenomenon the I-Team began investigating in 2017 when a similar explosion killed a man in Stephenville.
Federal investigators say Roger’s and her family had no way of knowing there was a gas leak because they could not smell it.
They also reported that the residents who were involved in the explosions just days earlier did not smell gas either.
Atmos has replaced hundreds of miles of pipes in this area since the accident; however, the NTSB chairman said, while investigating this accident, he was reminded of one of the many issues here–this very unnerving, scary phenomenon that often goes undetected until it’s too late.
“As I was going through this report over the weekend, I thought I have gas in my house, and I don’t have a methane detector so at that point I went to a largely used vendor on the internet and ordered one and it should be here today. I think that is not something a lot of us think about it. I have smoke detectors.” Looking up at the ceiling, he said, “There is one right there, but I have not thought about a methane detector.”
Following their deliberations, the NTSB made recommendations addressing safety issues methane detection as well as incident investigation, leak investigations and repairs, incident reporting and integrity management.
Roger’s family filed a lawsuit against Atmos and settled in 2019.
Their attorney, Ted Lyons, tells the I-Team the family is coping the best they can. ”
Everything that happened in this hearing today is born out exactly what we said about Atmos at the time that they were negligent and grossly negligent in maintaining this 71-year-old pipe which should have been removed,” said Lyons.
Click here to read the statement Atmos Energy sent the I-Team.
Click here for more information on the NTSB’s investigation, findings, and recommendations.
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