Lawsuit filed over fatal gas explosion at Heather Gardens in Aurora

The family of an 82-year old woman killed in a gas explosion two years ago at an Aurora senior living community alleges in a lawsuit that Comcast, Xcel Energy and their subcontractors acted “negligently and recklessly” as they drilled into the ground to lay fiber-optic cables.

The complaint was filed Sept. 25 in Denver District Court by the children of Carol Ross, the woman killed in the November 2018 explosion, as well five other residents of the Heather Gardens retirement community injured or financially impacted by the blast.

No charges were filed against Comcast or its contractors, ICS Communications and Bohrenworks, after a yearlong investigation. Aurora Fire Rescue’s investigation, however, found that contractors struck a gas line Nov. 16, 2018, while boring underground at the senior community. Investigators last year deemed the incident “an unintentional human act or omission.”

But Ross’ family and the other residents allege in the ;sesuit that the fact that workers had previously struck gas lines while digging through the senior community in the weeks leading up to the explosion showed that this was a pattern of negligence.

“From the outset, Comcast and its excavation contractors negligently and recklessly performed the excavation and drilling work without regard to safety, resulting in numerous utility line strikes,” the complaint says.

Comcast, in a statement, offered their “deepest sympathy” to the Ross family, adding that the company has been “working with the Heather Gardens community to provide support, and we will continue to do so.”

Xcel Energy, in a statement, said it could not comment on specifics of the lawsuit, but said “a natural gas line was hit by a third party digging in the area without the locates (sic) required by state law. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission investigated the incident and our overall response. They did not find any Xcel Energy violations.”

The Ross children and the other residents — Sandra and Paul Staley, Ronald and Gloria Achenbach, and Judy De Tar — also sued the Heather Gardens Association over its selection and oversight of the contractors tasked with completing the project.

They are seeking unspecified economic and noneconomic damages.

The explosion injured three people, including one firefighter.

Sandra Staley lived down the block from Ross and was sitting in her car when two explosions rocked the neighborhood. Staley suffered from severe hearing loss and anxiety after the blast, according to the lawsuit, as well as knee and shoulder injuries sustained after she fell while sifting through the debris in her home.

The other residents suffered economic losses from being charged fees even while their homes were inhabitable, the complaint states.

The incident sent dozens of senior residents scrambling to shelters, after the blast opened a chasm in the ground and shot debris hundreds of feet away. The explosion prompted uproar among residents, where people demanded answers after multiple leaks and errors during the fiber-optic project.

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