Local News

Family of Duke steam explosion victim hires attorney

Posted May 15, 2008 11:44 p.m. EDT
Updated May 16, 2008 10:26 a.m. EDT

— The family of a man killed Wednesday in a steam pipe explosion at Duke University has hired a Raleigh attorney as concerns over workplace-safety begin to surface.

Rayford Cofer, 63, of Franklinton, was working in a mechanical room in the basement of the Levine Science Research Center when a steam line exploded, killing him.

"This is very early. Very little is known,” attorney Lacy Presnell said.

As Cofer's family copes with his sudden death, they are also raising questions about workplace-safety.

Cofer, whom Duke had employed since 2001, was told to "patch things" when they should have been repaired more extensively, Cofer's stepson, William Coble, said.

"That system was so old. They were constantly working on it, and patching it, and repairing it as needed,” Coble added.

The steam system is used in many buildings throughout the Duke campus. Vice President for Campus Services Kemel Dawkins said the school will launch a full investigation into why the steam line burst.

"We are assessing this and we are assessing any related issues that even remotely may be related to this incident and its causes and any other issues that this may raise," Dawkins added.

Presnell said Thursday evening that he has not had a chance to talk to Duke representatives. He also said no lawsuit was pending.

"There is nothing pending. There is nothing that has been done at this point. They've simply reached out and asked for assistance to help them gather information and investigate this terrible tragedy,” Presnell said.

The Department of Labor's Division of Occupational Safety and Health is also investigating. It could be up to three months before any conclusions are reached, a spokesperson said.

The Levine Science Research Center is a 341,000-square-foot facility that houses animals and scientific samples, as well as classrooms, laboratory space and offices for several science departments.

Cleanup was still under way in the building following Wednesday's rupture, but it reopened Thursday for most of the day.

It closed again Thursday evening for crews to do additional work, but Dawkins said it will reopen from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.