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A fatal accident involving a ruptured natural gas line at a home in Topeka, Kansas, is a sobering reminder of the dangers of digging. The accident has cost a landscape company $5,000, but it cost the home’s owner her life.
A report to the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), the state’s utility-regulating agency, said that N-Line Lawn Service of Wetmore was installing a sprinkler system earlier this year when it accidentally snagged a natural gas line with one of its machines, pulling it 18 inches from its original location. Eighty-eight minutes later, an explosion occurred that resulted in the death of 81-year-old Lucinia “Lucy” Tolliver from burns four days later.
According to the report, N-Line workers didn’t immediately know that they had damaged the line, but did attempt to contact KGS after they smelled gas. Unfortunately, the number an employee called was for locating gas lines under routine circumstances.
The proper action would have been to call first responders. Instead, the employee waited 17 minutes on hold with the wrong number, then called Kansas One Call. A recording told him to call the utility directly. He then called a KGS emergency number he had in his truck. The N-Line worker reported that he could smell gas, but didn’t want to move his truck because he thought it was holding the pipe in place.
Employees of KGS arrived 29 minutes after they were called, 53 minutes after the pipe was damaged. The meter was shut off, and underground gas concentrations measured. A KGS work crew arrived, but just three minutes later, the house exploded.
Besides failing to call emergency responders immediately when a gas leak became evident, N-Line also didn’t have a valid notice of intent to excavate. For these reasons, KCC concurred with an order fining N-Line $5,000. The report also criticized KGS, stating that its emergency plan and employee training failed to provide adequate direction to preserve life and property in an emergency situation, and recommended a $15,000 fine.