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Guilty pleas in West Haverstraw home explosion

May 18, 2012 3:14:09 PM PDT
A contractor and his company pleaded guilty to assault and reckless endangerment Friday for a home explosion in Rockland County that injured four people, including two firefighters.

The natural gas explosion leveled the West Haverstraw home on January 16.

The contractor, 53-year-old Fidel Padilla, was hired by a subcontractor to install a 2-inch conduit at the Fairgrounds II condiminum complex for the installation of a Verizon Fios fiberoptic cable.

Over several days, FGC Communications, Inc. installed the conduit throughout much of the complex without incident. But on January 16 at approximately 12:15 p.m., workers excavating under Zariello Lane using a pneumatic device called a "mole" or "missile" struck and punctured a gas line. The error was a result of failing to comply with safety standards and the direction of the subcontractor.

The resulting gas leak ignited and sparked an explosion that destroyed the condo unit and seriously damaged several other nearby homes.

"This incident is particularly disturbing because it could have been prevented," District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said. "By violating applicable regulations and industry standards, these defendants nearly caused the deaths of four people and left several families homeless. Their careless and short-sighted decisions had the potential to cause serious loss of life."

Two West Haverstraw volunteer firefighters and two Orange & Rockland Utilities workers, who were evacuating residents and assessing the gas leak, were seriously injured when the explosion occurred.

"Today's plea agreement not only holds these defendants accountable for their conduct, but also sends a message to the construction industry," Zugibe said. "Those who knowingly risk the public's safety, to save time or money, will face justice."

Padilla pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree reckless endangerment, while FGC Communications pleaded guilty to first-degree assault.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 27.

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