A Washington Gas Light Co. foreman and two employees of a firm hired by the utility to repair underground gas lines were charged yesterday with criminal negligence for allegedly failing to detect conditions that led to a gas explosion in Prince George's County last month.
The Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office charged the three men with violating those sections of the county fire code that require gas companies and their contractors to take all necessary safety precautions and report all possible hazards.
The May 31 gas main explosion at 29th Street and Arundel Road in Mount Rainier caused minor burn injuries to two workmen, forced evacuation of nearby apartment buildings and cut gas to the area for several hours, a Prince George's County Fire Department spokesman said.
The explosion occurred, the fire official said, after an employee of the firm working for the Washington Gas Light Co. allegedly severed a high-pressure two-inch gas main with a backhoe.
Herbert E. Pierce, 48, of Newtown, Va., a backhoe operator for the D. A. Foster Equipment Corp., of Merrifield, and Clemon Ware, 55, of Bowling Green, Va., Pierce's foreman, were charged with failing to take precautions to prevent a leak and failing to report the concentration of gas that developed after the main was severed.
John E. Kendall, 58, of 65 54th St. SE, an inspector for the Washington Gas Light Co., was charged with failure to notify the fire department of the gas leak, the fire official said.
The Prince George's County regulations mandating proper care in the maintenance of gas lines and immediate reporting of any possible hazard were enacted after five people were killed in recent years by gas explosions in the Bowie area.
The Prince George's County fire spokesman said that this is the first time in the county's history that criminal misdemeanor charges have been placed against gas company employees or workers for violating these sections of the county fire code.
According to the spokesman, the gas explosion resulted in flames that leaped 30 and 40 feet in the air and ignited power lines.
A Washington Gas Light Co. spokeswoman said yesterday, "We are unaware of this situation, but if any charges are brought against our employees, our legal department will defend them."
The maximum penalty for each of the charges, the fire official said, was 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.