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What Caused the Fatal Explosion in Ewing? [AUDIO]


The investigation continues into the exact cause of that gas line explosion that leveled homes, killing one person and leaving seven workers injured in Ewing. The victim has been identified as Linda Cerritelli, 62, owner of one of the homes destroyed.

(David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Mike Gaffney of PSE&G speaks during a press conference about the explosion in Ewing on March 4 that destroyed 20 townhouses, killing one woman and injuring seven utility workers.

A contractor doing electrical repair work at the scene is believed to have damaged a gas line, which sparked the blast. The explosion destroyed at least 20 townhouses Tuesday.

The contractor hired by PSE&G — Henkels & McCoy — has been the subject of more than 130 incident investigations over the past decade, and OSHA fined them $221,000 for 29 violations in New Jersey, but PSE&G is praising the work they’ve done.

During a news conference at Ewing Police Headquarters, Mike Gaffney, the director of Gas Distribution for PSE&G, said what happened is an incredible tragedy, but he insists that the contractor was qualified and has a good history.

(David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann speaks during a press conference regarding the March 4 explosion at a townhouse development that killed one woman and injured seven utility workers in Ewing.

“Henkels and McCoy was qualified, through our technical and review process as an approved supplier for PSE&G,” Gaffney said. “Henkels and McCoy has had a long and successful history of supporting PSE&G construction work.”

When asked what kind of assurance the utility could offer New Jersey residents who are nervous that a similar accident could take place where they live, Gaffney said “we’ve been here a long time, we’ve been here over a hundred years and we’re not going anywhere, so we’re here to make sure the customers are comfortable. We’re going to find out how it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Gaffney also indicated PSE&G regrets that the utility workers suffered pain and discomfort, and the safety of employees and customers is always the primary goal.

A PSE&G spokeswoman sent Townsquare Media a statement following the news conference, which stated in part:

Henkels & McCoy was qualified through our technical and commercial review process as an approved supplier for PSE&G. H&M has had a long successful history of supporting PSE&G construction work. Their OSHA rates have been historically acceptable by PSE&G standards and considered above industry standard on the projects that we have done for us in the last three years. Henkels & McCoy is part of a ten company strategic partnership with OSHA  to reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths in the construction industry and just last December their membership in that group was renewed and it has successfully reduced fatalities in the industry from 11 in 2004  to 1 in 2013. They are a highly respected company in the industry.”

Ewing mayor Bert Steinmann said although he is always concerned when contractors get sited by OSHA, in this instance it appears all protocols were followed by the Henkels & McCoy workers.

Aerial view of firefighters at the scene of a Ewing home explosion
Aerial view of firefighters at the scene of a Ewing home explosion (CBS Philly)

“I don’t know what else could change, they did everything properly as far as marking out and that process,” he said. “It’s just a matter of who made a mistake, if they made a mistake.”

Ewing Police Lt. Ron Lunetta said the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is now looking into what happened, to determine “who did what, when they did it, when notifications were made, and obviously when the prosecutor’s office and our detectives get involved with that we’re looking to see if there’s any criminal charges there. It’s never ruled out till the conclusion of the investigation. Wherever it leads us, it leads us.”

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