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Attorney says documents point to contractor in ConAgra blast

Posted June 17, 2009
Updated March 29, 2010

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— David Stradley, a Raleigh lawyer representing two ConAgra Foods plant workers, said Wednesday that new evidence implicates Southern Industrial Constructors Inc. in a fatal explosion in the Garner plant.

Stradley said that he found permits at the Garner building inspector's office showing work on a natural gas line by Southern Industrial. The line, he said, leads to the area where the June 9 explosion happened.

Stradley also said the paperwork makes note of gas to a new water heater.

"(The document) seems to indicate that this work was only permitted eight days before the explosion,” Stradley said.

Lawyer cites permits in lawsuit against contractor Lawyer cites permits in lawsuit against contractor

Investigators have determined that a natural gas leak caused the explosion at the 425,000-square-foot Jones Sausage Road plant. Three workers were killed, and dozens more were injured.

Four workers burned in the explosion remained in critical condition in the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill Wednesday. A fifth worker was in fair condition, and a sixth was in good condition. The hospital earlier erroneously reported improvement in the condition of some patients.

Stradley said the documents he found show there was work being done by Southern Industrial in pump room No. 2. The room houses vacuum pumps for sealing the snacks, and gas inside it was ignited when one of the electrical components in the room was started, according to ATF agent Phil Durham said.

“(By) talking to a number of employees who noticed an odor of gas and tracing in the lines, we found where some lines had been worked on,” Durham said.

However, Durham also said he was not sure when work to the gas lines was done or who did the labor.

Rod Pettey, an attorney for Southern Industrial, said Wednesday that four company employees were working at the ConAgra plant the day of the explosion. Two were in another area of the plant, a third was outside the building, and a fourth was at a wastewater facility some distance away from the plant, he said.

"None of these employees were near the pump room where the explosion occurred, and none were working on gas lines or water heaters," Pettey said in a statement.

When asked specifically about the permits Stradley found, Pettey said he is aware of them. He said that he will be able to prove that Southern Industrial was not doing work in pump room No. 2 or with water heaters.
Federal and state agencies, meanwhile, were continuing their investigation into the cause of the gas leak and how it sparked the explosion.

Members of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and inspectors with the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health were reviewing employee training records and examining equipment.

They planned to hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Thursday at Embassy Suites near Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh to update the public about the investigation.

"It was a very sobering sight to see the impact of that explosion. It was a significant explosion and certainly a terrible tragedy for the people involved,” said CSB chairman John Bresland.

Bresland said that it is still too dangerous to get near where the blast occurred and that it could be a year before future safety recommendations are released.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • EverythingTicksMeOff Jun 18, 2009

    ThatswhatIthink, If this is true, then why hasn't it been reported in the media? Hmmm? Oh, that's right. Con-Agra owns the media and controls it and is covering it up. I'll bet the supervisor ambled off scratching his armpit wondering what he's supposed to do if there is a gas leak and then BOOOOOM! Uh, huh.

  • donnied1952 Jun 18, 2009

    It would be interesting to find out who the Southern employees were that did the job. My money goes to the illegals and I mean that literally.

  • GWALLY Jun 18, 2009

    ..."Sounds to me like the Attny is grasping at straws and is assuming that it was the contractors fault."....

    Attorneys always assume negnelance...and leave it up to you to prove otherwise.....of course you spend thousands of dollars in defense based on the lawyers ASSUMPTIONS.......!!! That is why insurance cost SOOOOOOOO much and consumers pay for it in every item they buy......so next time you see a lawyer driving down the road in his or her Mercedes or BMW,....just think to your self....I HELP MAKE THAT PERSON A GREAT LIVING everytime I purchase an American product....(the REAL American way)!!!!!

  • SME2 Jun 18, 2009

    Sounds to me like the Attny is grasping at straws and is assuming that it was the contractors fault.

    He must be good at the game CLUE!

  • chargernut69 Jun 18, 2009

    Terrible negligence!

    But... if you are an employee inside a building and smell gas, don't you think that someone would have notified security or maintenance immediately as in "Emergency - evacuate the building" ?

  • Check Yourself 1st Jun 18, 2009

    My experience says wait until all the information is available before casting blame. Don't say anything now that you aren't willing to say again when it's all over and done with...or at least be willing to apologize for having said it.

    Lifting up the families and employees during a most difficult time.

  • Smiling Jun 18, 2009

    Here is what I have observed.......after looking a the attorneys documents, it looks like the town of Garner, approved and did a final inspection on said work....but, the talk that I have heard in our industry, the Mechanical Services industry, is that the line that had the leak were not associated with the work that had been done, contrary to what the attorney digs up about Southern Industrial....I think there should be a waiting period of at least 30 days and until all investigations have been closed before our court system lets someone file a suit. Just my opinion.

  • 5-113 FA Retired Jun 18, 2009


    In a real-world setting, my comment regarding PSNC is known as, sarcasm. Wake up!

  • happymom Jun 18, 2009

    Lawsuits are not intrinsically bad. They are meant to serve as compensation (can you even begin to imagine the bills, including the indirect expenses, incurred by these familes that have lost loved ones or suffered an injury?). They are also meant to serve as deterrants to bad behavior. I'd prefer a company getting sued to the hereafter over another tragedy like this any day. If the cost to the company is great enough, they will be disinclined to do it again.

    I understand people feeling negatively about "oops, I slipped down on a banana peel here" cases, but people died. Others will suffer through years of pain and their families will have to deal with the loss of wages, caring for the victims, covering ancillary expenses, etc.

    IF the employees sue, I would think they are taking an appropriate action. After everything they have been through and will go through, who could blame them?

  • SaveEnergyMan Jun 18, 2009

    No, let me throw this in. Forklifts do NOT run on natural gas, they run on propane, contained in small tanks, much like your grills. Natural gas is almost exclusively used in large water heaters/boilers, ovens, and space heaters. Sometimes it also gets used in process equipment, not located at the ConAgra plant - yes, I've been there.

    Natural gas has mercaptin added, which is a sulfur compound with a pungent smell that alerts people to gas leaks. It could have built up in a pump room not generally used by the employees, then ignited when a motor started. Some motor starters can create a very small spark when the contacts come together. If the room were full of gas at the lower explosion limit, then it could set off the gas.

    Walking around over 400 plants over the last 16 years, I can tell you with all certainty that a natural gas is NOT common and indicative of a leak. That gets management's attention quickly.