Source: Hartford Courant – Possible gaps in safety protocols at the Kleen Energy power plant are at the center of the investigation into Sunday’s blast that killed five and injured 12. It occurred during the always-dangerous process of purging, or cleaning, of the underground, high-pressure natural-gas pipeline that runs about 800 to 1,000 feet through the facility.
Sources familiar with the purging operation and the construction and maintenance of the Kleen Energy pipeline reported these concerns to The Courant:
• That welding operations weren’t entirely halted and other ignition sources may have been present during the purging Sunday morning;
• That the area wasn’t completely cleared of workers and vehicles during the operation;
• Clutter and other safety issues at the site had delayed the purging operation for a short time and caused it to be re-scheduled to Sunday;
• That high-pressure natural gas was used to purge the pipe, as opposed to non-flammable nitrogen, which had been used for other operations at the plant;
• That the fill material covering the pipe was not compacted to a sufficient degree.
Deputy Middletown Fire Marshal Al Santostefano said the investigation — being conducted by multiple city, state, and federal agencies, including the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board — will focus in particular on whether there were other ignition sources present during the purging.
“It’s going to try to determine whether all electricity was shut down as a precaution, workers moved from the area — all of those issues,” Santostefano said. He said he did not yet know what type of gas was used to purge the gas line.
Investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board will be looking closely at whether the purging of natural gas contributed to the explosion.
“Reports indicate that this may have involved gas purging,” said spokesman Daniel Horowitz said. “This is an issue the board is very concerned about.”
The board recently issued safety recommendations concerning purging after investigating the natural-gas explosion in June 2009 at the ConAgra Slim Jim production facility in Garner, N.C., which caused four deaths, three critical life-threatening burn injuries, and other injuries that sent a total of 67 people to the hospital.
Santostefano said authorities believe many of those on the site at the time of the explosion worked for O&G Industries of Torrington, the general contractor building the plant, which was more than 95 percent complete.
In November, O&G paid a $1,000 fine for not meeting standards for recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses, according to OSHA records. The violation is in the least serious category of violations, an OSHA spokesman said.
The Middletown explosion is the most serious incident of its type in the country in at least a year, Horowitz said.
William Corvo, a principal partner in the Kleen Energy Project, declined this morning to answer questions about safety protocols or provide details of the purging operation.
“We’re focused now on the human side,” said Corvo, who was the face of the project in Middletown and in Connecticut during the seven-year process to win permits, capacity contracts, and about $1 billion in financing. “We have people who were hurt, people who were killed. We’re worried about the families.
Kleen Energy’s natural-gas line connects to the Algonquin pipeline’s meter station at the base of the power-plant site. The Algonquin line is part of a national gas-transmission system. The utility extended its local line about 1.5 miles and constructed the meter station to accommodate the project, said Algonquin spokeswoman Toni Beck.
“We introduced natural gas to the lateral and to the meter station in November,” said Beck. “Since then, Kleen Energy was taking flows as they commissioned the plant.”
She declined to say how much natural gas the plant was using.
Meanwhile, Congress plans to hold a hearing on the Kleen Energy explosion.
U.S. Reps Rosa DeLauro, John Larson, and Joe Courtney said in a statement this afternoon that they have received a commitment for a hearing from House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller.
They made the request after surveying the blast scene Sunday evening.
Courtney said it was “imperative that we review what went wrong and to make sure that all appropriate measures are put in place to prevent this type of catastrophe from happening again.”
Sgt. Hector Roa, 37, was being held Sunday at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in lieu of $50,000 bail on suspicion of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, records show. He could not be reached for comment.
The incident occurred at the Public House in the 2000 block of Greenville Avenue near Prospect Avenue. Matthew Kirchmeyer, a bouncer there, said they were closing about 2 a.m. when Roa, who had been at the bar, tried to get back inside. He said Roa was in plain clothes and didn’t identify himself as a police officer.
“He kind of tried to muscle his way back inside,” Kirchmeyer said. Kirchmeyer said that when he and owner Adam Seigel would not let Roa in, Roa hit both of them. “I pushed him to the ground,” Kirchmeyer said.
He said Roa then pulled a gun out of his waistband. “He pointed it right at me,” he said. “He proceeded to say some cuss words and chased me around a car out front.”
“When I saw the gun, I started high-tailing it,” Kirchmeyer added. “I was yelling at the top of my lungs, ‘Put the gun up!’ Police across the street heard.”
Kirchmeyer said they came running and drew their weapons.
According to a police report, officers saw Roa chasing Kirchmeyer around a car with a gun in his hand. When the officers told Roa to drop his weapon, he identified himself as an officer, gave up his gun and surrendered.
Roa told the officers he was upset because Kirchmeyer had called him a racial slur.
Kirchmeyer said that was not true. “The extent of the conversation was, ‘You can’t come in, we’re closed,’ ” he said. “He’s trying to cover up for the fact that he was drunk and pulled a gun on somebody.”
Seigel said he had seen Roa at the bar before. “He seemed like a nice guy,” Seigel said. “I guess he just had too much to drink.” He also denied using any racial slurs with Roa.
The incident was caught on the bar’s security camera, said Seigel, who added he would turn the recording over to investigators.
Roa, a former gang unit officer assigned to central patrol, has been placed on leave pending criminal and administrative investigations, department officials said.
Colleagues were stunned Sunday at the news about Roa, a well-respected supervisor whom many see as one of the department’s rising stars.
“I was very shocked,” said Senior Cpl. Teena Schultz, who was Roa’s partner for two years in Operation Disruption, a high-profile task force whose officers responded to high-crime areas across the city.
“He’s got a great character,” Schultz said. “He loves being an officer. He’s above this. I’m interested to hear the whole story to find out what led up to this.”
Authorities determined that seven of those fires were intentionally set, and they are investigating one Thursday as a possible arson. There have been no reported injuries or arrests, and federal officials aren’t saying whether there’s a connection.
Most people in these parts can’t help but think they are.
“I think everybody is expecting more of these, to tell you the truth,” said the Rev. David Mahfood, whose Baptist church in Tyler was destroyed in a Jan. 16 fire. “I think the worst is probably behind Tyler, but I’d worry about other cities.”
Six of the seven arsons were just nine days apart, sending many congregations scurrying to install security systems and prompting volunteers to keep close eyes on church properties from dusk to dawn. Federal and local authorities have released scant details and say they need more information.
“These things are painstakingly slow because a lot of evidence is lost in fire scenes,” said Tom Crowley, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “They’re still working it, but we could use more leads.”
The fires have struck a region where Christian stations fill the radio dial and a newspaper runs a Bible verse on the front page every day.
The seven churches varied in size and denomination.
Some were Baptist. One was a red brick Christian Scientist church nestled among stately homes. Another was a nondenominational church on the outskirts of town.
“The shock of it, it’s so outside the norm,” said Lloyd McCaskill, pastor of a church in Tyler that has given Mahfood’s congregation a temporary home. “To try to get into the mind-set, why would someone want to do this?”
Athens was the site of the first arson Jan. 1, and two more churches burned 10 days later in that town of 12,000.
After that, blazes blackened two churches about 35 miles away in Tyler.
Days later, a church in Temple went up in flames, followed by one in Lindale, just north of Tyler.
Thursday’s fire was less than 50 miles away, in Wills Point.
Two earlier fires came under suspicion, but authorities haven’t determined whether arson was the cause.
Police have increased patrols near churches.
In Tyler, a city of nearly 100,000 about 100 miles east of Dallas, authorities also are sending firetrucks on burglary calls. Tyler Fire Chief Neal Franklin would say only that it was a precautionary move.
Some residents have moved swiftly to protect their churches. Lloyd Young, who owns a small security alarm company in Tyler, has been updating churches’ systems or lending them what little extra equipment he has. He said he’s helped about a dozen.
Young also was among those who stayed overnight at his church.
“The general feeling is, it’s too fresh to just let our guard down,” Young said.
Authorities aren’t citing race as a reason for the arsons, but Mahfood considers them a hate crime.
“I don’t really think you can look at this devastation and not realize this has hate as its impetus,” he said as he stood in front of the charred rubble of his church.
Mahfood said he plans to rebuild his church. Some congregations are still figuring out what to do.
“The church is pretty strongly sewn in with the community here,” Mahfood said. “If you’re not a churchgoer, you’re related to somebody who is. So everybody is affected.”
Coroner Karl E. Addis told multiple media outlets that 26-year-old William Frederick Schuck III of Rabun Gap, Ga., died Sunday morning.
Schuck had been patrolling a private dirt road near Highway 11 north of Walhalla when his car got stuck. When he got out of the car to assess his situation, the car apparently moved forward and pinned him to the tree.
Investigators said Schuck had spoken with his wife after 1:30 a.m. and told her his car was stuck. When his supervisor could not reach him on the phone or radio, officers began searching for him. He was found dead at 3 a.m.
The guard shot the Glock pistol at the driver’s tires to stop the car, police said.
Police arrested the driver, Geraldo Perez of Buffalo, on charges of reckless endangerment, reckless driving and criminal mischief among other charges.
The incident happened about 3:15 a.m. today at a parking ramp near the intersection of Franklin and West Chippewa streets.
Perez was pulling out of the parking ramp when he crashed into the building, police spokesman Mike DeGeorge said.
The security guard apparently tried to stop the individual from leaving but the man kept driving and drove at the security guard, DeGeorge said.
Morrow police said about $10,000 in clothing items stolen from the Macy’s in Southlake Mall Sunday morning were recovered from a van.
Police Lt. K. Sutton told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the thieves did more than $100,000 in damages after driving a Dodge Intrepid through doors at the back of the store at about 2:30 a.m.
“They drove the Intrepid through the door and left it at that location,” Sutton said told the newspaper. “They loaded up the van and took off in the van.”
Police initially arrested five suspects, including four who were found hiding in a Jonesboro Waffle House and another who was caught trying to escape through the woods at about 4:45 a.m. The sixth then turned himself in.
Two of the suspects were hiding in the restaurant’s bathroom while two more were sitting at a table.
Officers attempted to stop the van after spotting it driving with its lights off, Sutton said. The driver fled into Jonesboro, where the suspects abandoned the vehicle.
Three adults and three juveniles were taken to the Clayton County jail. None of the suspects’ names was immediately released.
Sutton said officers responding to an alarm at the mall found a vehicle smashing into the store. Surveillance cameras captured men ransacking the store and taking clothes.
The suspects face charges including burglary, obstruction of law enforcement officers, theft by taking and reckless conduct.
Security guards at a local nightclub are being called heroes for helping rescue people from a burning apartment building.
The fire started around 3:30 a.m. in a 3-story building at 121 Liberty Pole Way.
Workers from “Club NV” noticed the smoke, called 911 and ran upstairs to help.
“The alarm didn’t go off in the building so they started pounding on all the doors to get everybody out of here,” said Deborah DeLille, who lives in one of the apartments. “I just wanted to get out because it was scary. It was really scary,”
When DeLille opened her door she could hardly breathe.
“The smoke was just coming down the stairs. It was thick and smelled awful,” said DeLille.
Firefighters rescued nine people from windows and off fire escapes.
“In a building like this when there’s a fire there is considerable threat to life safety,” said Rochester Deputy Fire Chief, Scotty Williams.
Six people were treated for smoke inhalation. DeLille says it would have been worse if it weren’t for the security guards.
“You just can’t thank enough because truthfully. If it hadn’t been for them I don’t think any of us would have come out of this building”
Investigators say the fire started in some boxes that had been set in the hallway as trash and was contained to a small area causing just minor damage to the building itself.
Officials say the fire alarm inside was not working, and they are calling the fire suspicious.
State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, surrounded by Greene County Commission Chairman William Johnson and the commission’s vice chairman, Donald Means, said in the press conference that local officials would defy any attempts by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s anti-gambling task force to raid Greenetrack bingo operations without a warrant.
“This task force does not have the legal right to come and raid without any warrant,” Singleton said.
Singleton said to the task force that without a warrant “you will be met with resistance from this community, this legislative delegation, and this county government.”
The sheriff has the right to stop any attempt to enter the facility by the task force and the sheriff has the authority to “deputize as many men as needed to meet this task force.”
On Saturday, task force commander John Tyson issued a warning to all casino and slot machine owners to get their machines out of the state immediately. He also called on Greenetrack, the state’s only large operation still open, to shut down.
The shooting around 1:40 a.m. Sunday took place outside the Suede Nightclub and Lounge on Bay Street, according to a police spokesman. The two-story nightclub is about three blocks from the wharf and near a number of hotels popular with tourists.
The San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office identified the person killed in the shooting as 19-year-old Lawon Hall, of nearby Richmond. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The shooting started after an altercation inside the nightclub spilled onto the street, escalating into gunshots, according to San Francisco Police Sgt. Wilfred Williams.
An armed patrol special police officer came upon the scene and opened fire, hitting a suspect, said Williams, who was not sure how many shots were exchanged. The suspect, who has not been named by police, is in custody at San Francisco General Hospital, and police say they are looking for a second suspect.
Patrol special police are community police officers who are chartered separately from the San Francisco Police Department but operate under its supervision
A spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital says they are treating four male victims of the shooting. All are in critical condition. The hospital has not released any additional details.
The Suede Nightclub is described by nearby residents as a popular spot where people often wait in lines stretching down the street to get inside.
A message left on a recording machine at the club seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The man, whose name has not been released, was found lying in the alley near the night club with knife wounds at 2 a.m. today, according to Pasco police.
He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died.
Pasco police are looking for two men believed to be cousins as persons of interest in the investigation. They are Adan Virgen, 28, and Concepcion Virgen, 20.
Police believe the El Patron employee was confronted in the alley by two people. The three argued and the victim was stabbed several times, according to police reports.
The two people who confronted the victim drove away in a white 1996 Dodge Stratus with Washington license plate 202-SXL, according to police.
Anyone with information, including the location of the cousins or the Dodge, are asked to call police at 545-3421 or 545-3484.