Wrongful death suit contemplated in housing authority complex explosion

  Posted October 28, 2009 By Mark Millican, the Daily Citizen   An alleged “history” of gas leaks and problems associated with galvanized piping at the Dalton Housing Authority complex on Underwood Street may form the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit following two deaths in an explosion and fire there, an attorney said Tuesday.     Jeffery Chad Nations, 34, of apartment 410, Underwood Court, died two days after the Aug. 22 explosion that rocked the residential neighborhood in east Dalton. His mother, Martha Sue Nations, 56, of the same address, died on Sept. 27. Both were in the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta when they died.     Since the explosion, several investigators have scoured the scene, including from the DHA’s insurance company, local and state fire agencies, and an examiner hired by Nations family attorney Genevieve Frazier.     Frazier said she has interviewed neighbors of the family at Underwood Court and two former employees in the city maintenance department and found there is a history of complaints about gas leaks and “problems” with the piping.     “Witnesses say the fire department came in and said there were problems with the galvanized piping, problems with rusting,” she said. “The rusting also affects the smell of the gas, and can pull in chemicals (with the gas). My understanding is that the fire department recommended the piping be replaced and it was not.”     Dalton Fire Chief Bruce Satterfield said he is “familiar” with some of the statements coming from Frazier and witnesses she’s interviewed since he has received two Open Records Act requests for information.     “I’ve looked back and found one instance — it was sometime between 2004 and 2006, I can’t remember exactly because I don’t have the records right in front of me — where there was a gas leak (at the housing complex), but it was not in that same (apartment) facility,” he said. “We shut the gas off at the facility, contacted Dalton Utilities, which locks the gas out, and turned it over to the housing authority maintenance crew for repair. Dalton Utilities must see that (the piping) is fixed before they’ll turn the gas back on.”     Satterfield disputed the statement that the fire department had recommended that gas pipes be replaced.     “We have found no evidence or knowledge where this department — through our records management system, nor through our two code enforcement officers — ever told the housing authority that pipes needed to be replaced in the entire facility,” he said.     Satterfield said he believed Frazier was “testing the waters” with the records requests to get at the veracity of the witness statements.     “We have shut other apartments down before due to gas or electric problems,” he added. “It’s all documented, and we always check to see they’re back up to code before the gas or electricity is turned back on.”     The department is still waiting on “expert documentation” as to the cause of the explosion from James Dido, a mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer Joe Nemeth, he said.     Satterfield asked the members of the Public Safety Commission on Tuesday whether legal fees would be paid by the city or come out of his fire department budget. City attorney Jim Bisson said an “ad litem notice” — which state law requires before a government entity can be sued — has been filed, and that the city had responded.     “I have no idea what the fees are at this point, or who will bear the charges,” he said. “We do have an insurance carrier and they have been notified.”     Satterfield said the legal fees were around $500, stemming largely from the records requests, and that the invoice had been mistakenly sent to his department.     “They sent me the bill, but the city is named in the (ad litem filing of the) lawsuit,” he said.     City finance director Cindy Jackson said the legal bill would likely go through the administrative budget.  

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