TRLF Leads Efforts for Middletown Blast Site to be Preserved

Attorneys want blast site in Middletown preserved

By Michael Naughton

Publication: The Day

Published 03/02/2010

Legal bill filed on behalf of explosion victims

Attorneys for men who were injured or killed in last month's power plant explosion in Middletown filed court documents Monday to preserve pieces of evidence at the scene and items already gathered by investigators in anticipation of a possible civil lawsuit.

Robert I. Reardon Jr. of New London and M. Hatcher Norris of West Hartford said they filed a "bill of discovery" Monday in Middletown Superior Court, aiming to cease activity at the plant site. The attorneys said authorities turned over the Kleen Energy Systems plant to O&G Industries, the general contractor at the plant, last week.

Six people were killed in the Feb. 7 blast, including Peter Chepulis of Thomaston, whose estate is being represented by Norris.

Reardon represents three people - Joseph Scovish and Kenneth Meloney, both pipefitters from Oakdale, and Dennis Riley, an electrician from Manchester - who he said all suffered head, neck and back injuries and have not been able to return to work.

The three men were outside of the plant when the explosion occurred.

Reardon and Norris said during a press conference Monday they were worried key evidence for any potential legal action would be altered or destroyed before it could be examined by all sides.

"It is essential that they have access to the blast site before it is altered or any further evidence is removed so that the petitioners' experts can objectively evaluate the blast cause and any negligent acts that may have brought about this tragedy," according to the court documents.

The bill of discovery asks for any work on the site to stop and for the site be preserved for 30 days to allow the experts hired by the victims' families to review the items.

Reardon said he would ask for a hearing on Monday's filing as soon as possible and that it could happen within the next two weeks.

"They certainly recognized the potential claims in the case ... and have a duty here to protect the evidence," Reardon said, referring to the three respondents named in Monday's court documents. The respondents include Kleen Energy and O&G, as well as the City of Middletown, which Reardon said collected about 75 pieces of evidence during its investigation.

The explosion occurred while workers were conducting a "gas blow" of natural gas lines, or cleaning them of debris. While the venting of the gas was being done, there were potential ignition sources present in the plant, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Reardon said he did not want to speculate what exactly caused the gas to ignite, but he said he and Norris have reached out to industry and chemical experts to help determine who, if anyone, is responsible.

Reardon also represents families of victims of The Station nightclub fire in 2003. He said experts were also brought in to that scene in West Warwick, R.I., to examine evidence as part of a potential law suit.