Monday, March 20, 2017

Tampering with gas meter could be the cause of the massive explosion that left 1 person and a pet dead in Rockville, MD

Body found after explosion levels Rockville home

By: staff , Lindsay Watts

Updated:Mar 20 2017 08:03AM EDT ROCKVILLE, Md. -
Officials said Saturday that a person and "domestic animal" were found dead inside the Rockville home destroyed in an early-morning explosion and fire Friday on Ashley Drive in the Randolph Hills neighborhood.

"It's not yet able to be identified as the occupant, that identification will come once an autopsy is completed," said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Goldstein.

Goldstein also said that it was still unclear whether the blast was intentional or accidental.

"No additional information is available or has come to light pertaining to the origin or initiation of the explosion," he said.

Neighbors fear it was the owner of the home and his dog who were killed.

Fire officials say the explosion could be felt over a mile away and that 911 calls were received from residents as far as three to four miles away.

According to a public notice (CLICK HERE TO READ NOTICE), the home was set for auction on Friday at 1:30 p.m. The auctioneers confirm to FOX 5 the home was in foreclosure and say that the auction was canceled the previous day by the law firm involved in the sale. The reason is unknown.

Neighbors say the resident had not been consistently living in the home for some time. However, fire investigators say there was evidence he was in the home earlier in the week.

Washington Gas says gas service was cut off to the house in June 2015. However, their meter-reading devices detected that unauthorized gas usage started last December.

"Basically he was tampering with his meter and was able to reestablish his gas service to his house," said Douglas Staebler, the senior vice president of utility operations for Washington Gas.

"It's too early in the investigation for us to identify if there is something that contributed that was gas-related," Goldstein said.

The fire chief reassured residents that the homes in the Randolph Hills neighborhood are safe and the gas services being provided are safe.

Goldstein said ten homes and nine vehicles were damaged as a result of the blast. A family has been displaced from the one of the damaged homes after it was declared unsafe to occupy.

"The remaining houses have various degrees of damage and vary from blast to minor structural issues," said Goldstein.

Peter Rice, who lives right across the street from the home that exploded, now has a crack in his basement wall. Rice said he knew his neighbor well.

"He would come over and he would sharpen the blades on my lawnmower, he would borrow my grill. He was always building things and doing plumbing things," Rice said. "Something did change, and I don't know exactly what that event was or what it was, but suddenly he became a lot more elusive."

He said the change happened several years ago.

Fire officials tell FOX 5 they are aware of reports from neighbors that ammunition and firearms were kept in the house. Officials do not believe this would have contributed to the explosion.

Paul Ricci lives in the area and recorded video of the flames following the explosion. He said the impact felt similar to the 2011 earthquake that struck the D.C. area.

”It jolted me right out of bed. We immediately got up and started wondering what was happening,” Ricci said. “We took a look around outside and noticed a glow. Someone came running by and said a house blew up - that immediately sent a shiver up our spine.”

The neighborhood has seen a house leveled by an explosion in recent memory. In May 2011 an explosion destroyed a home on the same street, killing two people, after a resident disconnected a clothes drier's gas service without capping the line, Piringer said.

GREEDY GRUNDY: Insurance agent Troy Shrum charged with two counts of theft of property and two counts of insurance fraud.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says an insurance agent from Tracy City has been indicted on fraud charges after stealing insurance money from his customers.

This week, the Grundy County Grand Jury returned indictments charging Troy Shrum with two counts of theft of property and two counts of insurance fraud.

Shrum turned himself in on Friday and was booked into the Grundy County Jail.

In August of 2015, the 12th District Attorney General Michael Taylor asked TBI agents to investigate allegations of insurance fraud involving a Grundy County insurance agent.

Agents discovered that between December 2010 and November 2015, Shrum took insurance premium money from customers but never sent it to insurance providers. Customer's insurance polices were canceled because of lack of payment.

He was released after posting a $7,500 bond.


With one Cook Inlet pipeline leaking, feds want Hilcorp to inspect another

Author: Alex DeMarban
Updated: 21 hours ago

Federal pipeline regulators on Friday put Hilcorp Alaska on notice that a crude oil pipeline of the same vintage and size as the company's leaking gas line in Cook Inlet could be threatened by the same forces that ruptured the gas line and cause a far more dangerous leak.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had already issued a proposed order that Hilcorp fix the gas leak by May 1 or shut down the leaking gas pipeline.

On Friday, the agency sent a second proposed order to Hilcorp. Now, it also wants the company to conduct internal and external inspections of the "substantially similar" underwater pipeline that carries crude oil to shore from two offshore production platforms located in Cook Inlet northwest of Nikiski.

That crude oil pipeline is operating as it should, the company said Friday.

The crude oil line runs beside the leaking gas line, according to the agency's proposed safety order, sent Friday and signed by Chris Hoidal, PHMSA's western region director.

Both of the 8-inch steel pipelines were installed in the mid-1960s as the Cook Inlet oil boom was building.

PHMSA said the gas line leaked twice in 2014 in summer, but repairs were made before Hilcorp acquired the facilities from the previous operator. The leaks were caused by abrasion from rocks in areas where the pipeline is not supported by the seabed, the agency said.

"Although the cause of the ongoing leak on the (gas pipeline) is unknown, past leaks on the pipeline have occurred due to outside forces," such as pipe vibration or rock damage, the notice said.

It's reasonable to conclude that "similar conditions" are also present for the crude-oil line, the notice said.

Hilcorp detected the gas leak Feb. 7 when a helicopter flying above the pipeline route spotted roiling waters. Hilcorp has indicated the leak began in December, according to PHMSA.

Hilcorp has said pan ice and strong tides in Cook Inlet present dangers for repair divers. The company doesn't expect to begin finding and fixing the leak — about 80 feet underwater — until the ice clears. That is not expected to happen until at least late March, the agency said.

The notice said environmental harm from an oil leak could be "significantly greater" than from the gas leak, while Hilcorp's ability to respond could be severely hampered in winter. Estimates show only 340 endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales remain, so deaths of individual whales could have "population-level effects," the notice said.

Data collected from satellite-tagged belugas in 2002 and 2003 show they spent a lot of time near the pipelines in March, the agency said. While hazards to birds and ducks are currently low, those risks will increase once more birds arrive in seasonal migrations starting late this month. Migrations of hooligan and salmon smelt will also begin about mid-April, presenting more concerns, the agency said.

PHMSA said the annual side-scan sonar or multibeam echo-sounder surveys currently performed by Hilcorp don't provide enough information to notice corrosion, dents, gouges and other problems with the pipes. The agency noted that Hilcorp conducts diver inspections.

As it did in its March 3 notice, PHMSA calls for more thorough external inspections of the pipe, as well as internal inspections by Sept. 30, which currently aren't conducted.

Internal inspections would involve an upgrade to the pipeline to allow reviews by a "smart pig," a device that moves through the line to detect dents, wall thinning and other problems, said Lois Epstein, an Alaska-licensed engineer and Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society.

"Given that the breached gas pipeline has had three failures since 2014, it's clear that Hilcorp has not adequately addressed known risks to pipelines in Cook Inlet," she said.

PHMSA's order is not final, and can be challenged by Hilcorp.

After a final order is issued, Hilcorp will have 21 days to externally inspect the pipeline or shut it down and purge it, the agency said. It might also need to be shut down if it's deemed unsafe.

Hilcorp said it will work with PHMSA and other agencies "to ensure a thorough and timely response" to the proposed order's concerns.

Hilcorp acquired the pipeline in September 2015 and completed a successful pressure test on the line, said a statement provided by Lori Nelson, external affairs manager at Hilcorp Alaska.

"Hilcorp continues to focus on addressing the natural gas pipeline leak and en

suring the safety of our responders in the field," the statement said.


Cook Inlet gas line leak is a hazard and must be repaired, feds say

Author: Alex DeMarban
Updated: March 7

Hilcorp Alaska Platform A was built in the mid-1960’s and was owned by Shell at that time. The leaking pipeline delivers natural gas used as fuel for this platform and three others. (2010 archive photo Curtis Smith / Shell)

A federal regulatory agency has concluded that a leaking natural gas line in Cook Inlet poses a risk to public safety and the environment, and says it should be shut down if not repaired by May.

In its 11-page notice of a proposed order, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also provides new information about the leak, including that pipeline owner Hilcorp Alaska learned it began in December. The company didn't publicly disclose the leak until Feb. 7, when it said a helicopter overflight detected gas bubbles.

A Homer environmental leader, in his own overflight, said it looked more like a "cauldron" and took a video to prove it. The video showed a massive, roiling leak.

The federal agency said the company's current inspections of the 8-inch steel pipeline aren't adequate to detect damage, such as from corrosion or gouges by rocks.

Hilcorp Alaska didn't respond to requests for comment.

The pipeline, built in 1965, delivers gas for fuel from shore for four aging offshore platforms in Cook Inlet. Two of those platforms produce small amounts of oil and two are unmanned with no active production, yet still require electricity for such things as lights for navigational aids.

Hilcorp Alaska has 30 days to challenge the proposed safety order, comply with it or work with PHMSA to address the problem, according to the notice issued Friday by Chris Hoidal, director of PHMSA's western region in Lakewood, Colorado.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has also said it wants a plan from Hilcorp. The DEC said Hilcorp needs to explain by Monday, March 13, how the company would shut down the oil wells on the platforms and evacuate gas from the line to control the release, should such a step be required.

By Wednesday, the state agency said, Hilcorp should present a monitoring and sampling plan to assess risks to fish, wildlife and the environment, including endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales. The agency could call for the pipeline and platforms to be shut down if an analysis showed the benefits of doing so outweighed the risks, said Geoff Merrell, Central Alaska region manager for DEC.

PHMSA has jurisdiction over the pipe and its operation, and could make its own decision to shut down the pipeline, he said. DEC has jurisdiction over the leaking gas, which the state agency considers a hazardous substance.

The PHMSA letter also indicates repairs may not come as early as originally hoped. Hilcorp has said repairs by divers cannot begin until at least mid-March, in part because of a combination of large ice pans and extreme tides that would put personnel and boats in danger.

Hoidal, however, says Hilcorp has indicated late March will be the earliest start date. The sea ice is expected to clear sometime between then and the end of April, allowing divers to safely access and fix the leak.

"The serviceability of the pipeline will remain impaired until at least this time," Hoidal wrote.

Hilcorp appears to be "shooting straight" about its assertion that the Inlet is too dangerous now for divers, said Dan Magone, who has overseen commercial repair dives out of Dutch Harbor for decades.

Magone said on Monday that he had not heard of the leak in Cook Inlet, having just returned from three weeks spent removing a beached vessel in Akutan in the Aleutian Islands.

But Magone, general manager at Resolve Magone Marine, said diving anyway is dangerous; add large pans of ice moving with the Inlet's strong tides and the danger increases substantially.

"If ice was the only hazard, you might figure out a plan, but it's not," said Magone, who has led commercial diving projects in Cook Inlet in the summer but not in winter. "It is a challenging place to work."

According to PHMSA's notice, Hilcorp had observed an increase in gas line flow in late January, leading it to launch helicopter "surveillances." The aerial searches led to the discovery of the leak after a helicopter spotted roiling waters on Feb. 7 above a section of the pipe.

Later, Hilcorp's analysis of gas flow showed that the line began leaking in "late December," Hoidal said.

Hoidal said that Hilcorp's inspections of the pipeline's condition are inadequate.

"The annual side-scan sonar or multi-beam echo-sounder survey, or both, that Hilcorp currently performs, do not provide sufficient information to determine whether there are external loads on the pipe, eroded pipe, rock impingements, metal loss, dents, gouges, dielectric coating deterioration, and/or missing 1-inch thick concrete weight coating," he wrote.

The leaking portion of the gas line carried oil until it was converted to carry gas in 2005. The leak is located about 3 ½ miles from shore, northwest of Kenai.

Initial reports put the leak at 225,000 to 325,000 cubic feet of gas per day, enough to fuel about 390 homes a day in Southcentral Alaska in December, a cold month when gas use was high.

Later, Hilcorp Alaska on Feb. 15 pegged the leak at 210,000 to 310,000 cubic feet a day, after steps were taken to reduce gas flowing through the line by reducing activity on the platforms. PHMSA's letter is based on that lower amount.

Hoidal says the federal agency accepts Hilcorp's assertions that "immediate repair" of the leak poses an "extreme risk" to divers and other repair personnel. He says that option is "not viable."

The agency also agrees with Hilcorp that the risk of shutting down the gas line includes a crude oil leak. Seawater might enter the pipeline and flush out residual oil. Also, without fuel gas to help power oil production on two of the platforms, a separate pipeline carrying crude oil might freeze, causing a rupture in that line.

But Hoidal also lists potential dangers, including a leak that could worsen and increase the threats to wildlife such as beluga whales. The federal notice to Hilcorp says that continued operation without "corrective measures" presents a risk to "public safety, property and the environment."

The agency made that decision after accounting for such factors as the pipeline's age, the hazardous material that's leaking, the Inlet's wildlife and the geographical characteristics around the pipeline.

The agency notes the same line leaked twice in 2014, in June and August. The leaks were 40 yards apart, about two-thirds of a mile from the current leak, Hoidal said.

The previous gas line owner, XTO Energy, found that the leaks were caused by rock abrasion in areas where the pipeline is not continuously supported by the seabed. XTO Energy sold the pipeline and other facilities to Hilcorp Alaska in 2015.

Pipelines in the Inlet are threatened by vibrations from turbulent water when they aren't supported by the seabed, allowing them to potentially strike rocks.

In calling for permanent repairs to the pipeline by May 1, PHMSA wants a plan from Hilcorp on how it would shut down the pipeline, including purging gas from the line but maintaining enough pressure with a "non-hazardous" substance to prevent saltwater from entering.

The agency also calls for long-term steps to improve inspections and make other repairs to the aging line, if needed, after the sea ice has melted.

That includes using "high-resolution" sonar or related technology to inspect the line to find sections that aren't supported by the seabed and may be subject to vibration or "excessive bending."

Unsupported sections at least 10 feet long must be visually inspected to look for corrosion and damage, the letter said.

Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer who served for several years on a federal advisory committee addressing pipeline issues, said it's clear from the proposed order that Hilcorp could have done more to prevent the leak.

That attitude won't help the company's effort to get federal permitting approval for a much more remote oil project known as Liberty that it has proposed in the Beaufort Sea, she said.

"People are going to remember this," said Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society.

Westchester County legislators approved a $2.8 million settlement to Joseph Gragnaniello, 38, a heating and air conditioning mechanic working for Unity Mechanical Corporation, reportedly fell from a six-foot ladder while repairing a boiler in the basement of 111 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd.

Westchester County will pay $2.8 million to settle a lawsuit from a worker hurt when he fell off a ladder in the basement of the county court building in White Plains.

Joseph Gragnaniello, a heating and air conditioning mechanic working for Unity Mechanical Corporation, was fixing a boiler in the basement of 111 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. on May 20, 2013 when he allegedly injured his spine, both shoulders and his right knee.

Gragnaniello, who was 38 years old at the time of the accident, fell off a six-foot ladder and said he struck multiple objects on the way to the floor. He said the county was negligent because it hadn’t provided adequate equipment or safety measures. He’d received a summary judgment in March 2016.

A letter from the court this week showed that the court had been informed that the case was settled, but was awaiting the attorneys to certify a "stipulation of discontinuance" by March 24. The county legislature had approved the settlement at its March 6 meeting.

County attorneys had recommended the settlement, saying the county in a jury trial could have been made to be well beyond the $2.8 million in damages and economic lost. Gragnaniello could argue he is permanently physically disabled and can no longer work as a journeyman mechanic, the documents said.

The building is owned by The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, but is leased to Westchester, according to court filings.


WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester County legislators approved a $2.8 million settlement last week in a four-year-old lawsuit involving a worker at the County Courthouse.

Joseph Gragnaniello, 38, a heating and air conditioning mechanic working for Unity Mechanical Corporation, reportedly fell from a six-foot ladder while repairing a boiler in the basement of 111 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. in May 2013.

The county reportedly settled to avoid a costlier jury trial.

The building is owned by The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, but is leased to Westchester County.


WHITE PLAINS, NY — A worker who has injured falling off a ladder in the basement of a White Plains court building will receive $2.8 million in a settlement of a lawsuit against Westchester County.

Heating and air-conditioning mechanic Joseph Gragnaniello was fixing a boiler May 20, 2013, when he fell off a 6-foot ladder, striking many object on the way down, the Journal News said.

He alleged the county didn’t provide adequate safety or equipment.

A special needs resident started the Fresno fire with a butane tool at the Cardinal Creek Apartments in Fresno, CA

Sunday, March 19, 2017 06:10PM
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An early morning fire in northeast Fresno left a dozen people without a home.

The fire happened Sunday at the Cardinal Creek Apartments on Gettysburg and Chestnut Avenues.

Two neighbors said they banged on windows and doors to get those sleeping inside the fourplex out alive. The flames were so intense that nearly two dozen firefighters were on scene battling the blaze.

Melanie Culmanero lives in a building nearby.

"I heard some yelling and screaming at three o'clock this morning, 'everybody get out of the apartment, call 911,'" she said.

Culmanero says the flames were shooting several feet into the air, forcing one of the residents out with very little on.

"I came and got a blanket and covered one of the ladies at the apartment here," Culmanero said.

Investigators say they think a special needs resident may have accidentally started the fire with a tool that has some sort of butane or welding piece of equipment on it.

He was injured and paramedics took him to the hospital. Culmanero says her heart goes out to her neighbors who are now left without a home.

"You always feel for the families that are affected when they have fires and how everything is gone in their house and apartment," she said.

Only one unit suffered extensive damage, and the fire department estimates it will cost around $60,000.

The Red Cross provided assistance to an elderly couple and their caretaker. Four people lived in the unit and one of them suffered first and second-degree burns.

They are expected to recover.

The person who investigators believe started it is not facing any charges at this time.

MORE CARNAGE ON THE DEADLY U.S. ROADS CAUSED BY DRUNKS/JUNKIES: 2 drivers killed, at least 8 injured in wrong-way collision on I-85 in Durham, NC

The dead wrong-way driver Aretha Chavis

Most fatal drunk- or junkie-related traffic accidents occur in the early a.m. hours, just like in this instance.  Blacks also commit a disproportionate number of traffic accidents relative to their percentage in the population.  They also commit fifty (50) percent of all homicides while they are only 13.5% of the population.  And then these people claim that they are targeted by police!

Family identifies driver killed in I-85 crash in Durham early Monday morning

DURHAM, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Durham police are piecing together a wrong-way crash that left two people dead, one critically hurt, and seven less-seriously injured early Monday morning.

It happened along Interstate 85 near exit 179 for Club Boulevard.

Authorities said around 12:15 a.m., a red Hyundai Sonata and a Ford Expedition with a Pennsylvania license plate collided in the northbound lanes of I-85.

Police said the woman driving the Hyundai was headed the wrong way. The woman - who was identified by friends and family as Aretha Chavis - was killed.

"She was my best friend, my sister, my rock, my everything," Chavis' friend Janet Roberts said.

Janet Roberts owns the Hyundai Sonata. Chavis was driving alone when the car collided with the Ford Expedition.

The driver of the SUV - 29-year-old Jerry Alamo of Central Falls, Rhode Island - was also killed. A passenger - 36-year-old Glenda Alamo - suffered critical injures.

The other passengers - three children (ages 4, 11 and 10) and four adults (ages 16, 21, 22 and 32) - were taken to the hospital for treatment.

Authorities in Durham are investigating a crash that killed two people on Interstate 85

Durham police told ABC11 that Alamo and Chavis were killed instantly

Police are trying to learn why Chavis got on the interstate in the wrong direction.

"They called me first. I was the only number that they knew," said Chavis's cousin Robbin Chavis Williams. "My cousins called me and said 'she's gone' and I said, 'no she's not.' But now she's gone and there's no better person in the world."

Northbound lanes of I-85 reopened just before 5:30 a.m. after being closed for several hours.

4 injured after private ambulance collides at LI intersection with a Chevy Suburban SUV

4 injured after private ambulance collides at LI intersection with a Chevy Suburban SUV

Monday, March 20, 2017 06:09AM
BOHEMIA, Long Island (WABC) -- Four people were hospitalized after an ambulance collided with an SUV on Long Island.

It happened Sunday on Sunrise Highway in Bohemia.

Police say a private ambulance was traveling north on Oakdale-Bohemia Road when the ambulance and a Chevy Suburban traveling westbound on Sunrise Highway Service Road crashed at the intersection at approximately 5:50 p.m.

The Suburban overturned and struck a sedan traveling southbound on Oakdale-Bohemia Road.

Two people in the Suburban and two people in the ambulance were transported to Southside Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

The two people in the ambulance are employees of the ambulance company. They suffered head and back injuries.

There was no patient in the ambulance at the time.

4 injured after private ambulance collides at LI intersection with a Suburban SUV

Massive fire in Mount Vernon, NY completely destroys abandoned home, damages at least 2 others; arson or foul play is suspected.

MOUNT VERNON, Westchester County, NY (WABC) -- A raging fire ripped through three buildings in Mount Vernon, leaving ten people displaced.

The fire department was called to the scene after the blaze broke out at 213 South 3rd Avenue at about 10:45 Sunday night.

There was heavy fire on the first and second floors of the three-story home. It eventually collapsed due to the intense flames and heat.

Flames were quickly spreading from the building to two homes next door, which were vacant.

An apartment building next door had to be evacuated, but the 45 residents were allowed back in Monday morning.

No injuries were reported.

The Red Cross is assisting the ten people displaced.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. 

Arson or foul play is suspected.  Mount Verson is a cesspool of crime and gang activity.  Another former good play to live has changed by loose law enforcement.  Democrats' work at play here and other urban towns/cities.

The crime rate in Mount Vernon is considerably higher than the national average across all communities in America from the largest to the smallest, although at 34 crimes per one thousand residents, it is not among the communities with the very highest crime rate. 

The chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime in Mount Vernon is 1 in 29. Based on FBI crime data, Mount Vernon is not one of the safest communities in America. Relative to New York, Mount Vernon has a crime rate that is higher than 90% of the state's cities and towns of all sizes.

In fact, after researching dangerous places to live, NeighborhoodScout found Mount Vernon to be one of the top 100 most dangerous cities in the U.S.A.


MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Three homes were consumed by flames in a late night fire in Mount Vernon.

The fire broke out around 10:30 p.m. Sunday at a home on South 3rd Avenue. Fire officials say by the time that crews arrived on scene, the home was completely engulfed.

“Fire was coming out on all sides upon our arrival,” Mount Vernon Fire Chief Al-Farid Salahuddin said. “So it had a good start on it before we were called.”

The chief says the home where the fire started was abandoned, but the flames quickly spread to the homes on both sides.

“That thing spread quick and it spread through this house very quickly,” resident Anthony McDade said. “You could see the flames just coming up on our windows and stairwells. Big, huge flames.”

One house was empty and for sale and the other was a multi-family home, where the chief says there was a partial collapse in the rear of the building. The home where the fire started also collapsed.

The chief said everyone did manage to escape the fire and no injuries were reported.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.  Arson or foul play is suspected.