Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Unbeknownst to Juanita Edwards, natural gas had been seeping out of a faulty line and into the ground beneath her home on the outskirts of Roswell, a new lawsuit alleges.
The 84-year-old woman had just gone outside to get the newspaper on July 3 when the gas that had accumulated found an ignition source, according to a lawsuit filed last week against the New Mexico Gas Co.
“Decedent’s home erupted in an explosion while she was inside,” states the wrongful death suit filed last week in District Court in Santa Fe.
Neighbors heard Edwards screaming for help, but the heat forced them away from the home. Edwards was later found dead.
The lawsuit alleges “slip-shod work” went into constructing the gas distribution system, and over time, a poorly welded pipeline near Edwards’ home aged and ultimately began to leak, but he said the amount of gas leaving the pipeline was substantial.
“This was a high, high volume leak,” said Marquette Wolf, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys.
Wolf said it is not yet clear when the leak started, but the suit says that the soil surrounding Edwards’ home became saturated with explosive gas.
Natural gas is odorless, tasteless and colorless, and is infused with odor so that it is detectable to humans. But contact with soil in underground leaks can deodorize it, according to the lawsuit. Without a gas detector, there would be no way for Edwards to know what was happening, Wolf said.
“The only warning of the presence of gas provided by the gas company is removed as odor fade occurs,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit accuses the gas company of failing to properly inspect its system for leaks and failing to warn customers about odor fade, among other things.
“As a result of the negligence of the gas company and the gas company’s conduct detailed above, decedent suffered horribly and sustained a fatal injury and thus suffered significant damages,” the suit alleges.
Tim Korte, spokesman for the gas company, said Wednesday that the company has received a copy of the complaint and is reviewing it.
“We will answer the complaint in court, and we’re confident in the conduct of our company and our employees as it relates to this tragic event,” Korte said. “Our condolences go out to the relatives of Mrs. Edwards.”
He said the company continues to work closely with and fully cooperate with investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s Office, the Roswell Fire Department and the state Public Regulation Commission’s Pipeline Safety Bureau.
The plaintiff in the case is seeking a judgement against the gas company for damages, punitive damages, costs and other relief.