Coryell Memorial

Coryell Memorial Hospital in Gatesville is committed to eventually seeing the completion of a multimillion-dollar expansion after an explosion rocked the original construction site, leading to the deaths of three construction workers and injuring 13.

Five months after the June 26 explosion, those plans are still on hold.

On Tuesday, the State Fire Marshal’s Office released its report on a monthslong investigation into the blast. The investigation’s conclusion on what caused the fire? Undetermined.

What caused the blast, however, is suspected to be a pocket of gas in the boiler and mechanical rooms ignited by an unknown source.

Key points of the report include:

  • Ignition likely occurred in the boiler room.
  • The most significant damage was aligned with water heaters.
  • Prior to the explosion, plumbers were bleeding air off of natural gas lines on the water heaters.
  • Witnesses deny smelling gas.
  • Investigators found no evidence of migrant gas or underground leak.

A natural gas pipe supplying water heater units appears to have been disconnected before the explosion, allowing gas to flow freely into the mechanical room, Sgt. Paul Ayres said in his report.

Ben Gonzalez, spokesman for the Fire Marshal’s office, said the office had no comment beyond what is included in the 27-page report. Because several items found on the scene of the explosion could have sparked the gas, such as several cellphones and lighters, Gonzalez said investigators with the Fire Marshal’s office have experienced difficulty pinpointing precisely what caused the explosion.

The investigation is closed, but upon receipt of new information regarding the case, the report’s conclusion could change, according to Ayers.

Gonzalez said, “I don’t think there is a clear answer. They looked at potential sources for gas and witness statements, I don’t think they can go beyond that.”

Michael Bruggman, 42, of Rogers, died in the blast. Filiberto Morales, 36, of Round Rock, and Wilber Dimas, 29, later succumbed to their injuries.

The utility plant building, a 117,000-square-foot project that started in November 2016, was set to feature new operating rooms, a new 25-bed hospital portion, a 16-bed rehab center and new administrative offices.

Hospital spokeswoman Carly Latham said several obstacles still need to be crossed before the project is undertaken again, but did not elaborate on the obstacles. In order to prevent another accident from occurring, Latham said “special precautions” will also be taken to ensure safety.

But there’s only so much the hospital can do, she added. The bulk of safety lies with the contractor, Latham said.

Adolfson & Peterson, based in Dallas, was the original contractor for the expansion, and is still contracted for the project. Latham did not expand on the details of the hospital’s agreement with the firm moving forward.

Construction on the project could resume at the same site, but that decision has not been made yet, according to Latham. She said, however, if the hospital decides to resume construction on the same plot, extra attention will be taken to ensure integrity of the foundation.

“I would hope that any time something of this nature happens that everyone looks into taking precautions, but we are in the business of healthcare and that is our specialty. Our thoughts and prayers have been continually with the families affected,” Latham said. “Right now, our focus is getting construction resumed so we can complete the renovation and expansion of our campus.”

Litigation

The mother of one of the men killed in the explosion is suing three companies, accusing them of negligence.

Isabel Aranzamendi, the mother of Dimas, filed a Dallas County lawsuit mid-October against Atmos Energy Corporation, Lochridge-Priest, Inc. and Johnson Controls, Inc.

Aranzamendi is seeking more than $1 million, according to the lawsuit.

mpayne@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7553

Herald staff writer

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