District attorneys, fire investigators determine no charges for contractors who punctured gas line prior to Heather Gardens explosion that killed 1

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AURORA | Investigators have determined that the workers who inadvertently bored into a natural gas line shortly before an explosion killed an 82-year-old woman and injured three others in Heather Gardens last year will not be charged with any crimes in connection with the incident, according to a batch of police and fire documents released to The Sentinel Monday.

“After meeting several times with the 18th Judicial District Attorneys, the decision was made that there was not enough evidence at this time to successfully convict any of the parties involved in this incident,” Aurora Fire Rescue Captain James Eitel wrote in a lengthy investigation report obtained through an open records request. 

Investigators determined contractors laying conduit on behalf of Comcast along East Linvale Place on Nov. 16, 2018 struck a gas line with a directional boring drill around 4 p.m., according to an Aurora Police Department general offense report. The gas then leeched through the soil and into the home of 82-year-old Carol Ross at 13962 E. Linvale Place, where it ignited via unknown means at about 5:30 p.m.

Ross was killed in the blaze, and three other people were injured, including one firefighter.

“The department offers our deepest condolences to the loved ones of Carol Ross who died last November,” Aurora Fire Chief Fernando Gray said in a statement. “We understand that the one-year-mark can be difficult for all impacted including those who were displaced, those who were injured, and especially those who lost a loved one.”

Ramiro Colmenero, a Bohrenworks contractor involved in the boring operation, told investigators the crew was laying conduit, though “there were no ‘marks’ for utilities” in the area — only marks and flags to delineate lines for the retirement community’s sprinkler system, according to an Aurora Police Department offense report. 

Colmenero, who was 21 at the time of the explosion, said his supervisor on Nov. 16, 30-year-old Josh Joiner, “told him to ‘make the shot,” with the drill despite the lack of markings, according to the police report. 

Colmenero began to smell gas while an operator was extracting conduit through a boring hole, at which point he called 911. The explosion occurred about 90 minutes later. 

Upon receiving Colmenero’s 911 call, Aurora firefighters were dispatched to the area, at which point they called for Xcel Energy crews to come repair the gas line, according to dispatch notes. However, Xcel crews were delayed in getting to the area and didn’t arrive until about 4:53 p.m. Xcel workers were repairing the line when the explosion occurred, sending flames through a hole Xcel staff had dug and causing multiple people to be tossed through the air, according to the reports.

While waiting for Xcel to repair the ruptured line, Aurora Fire personnel checked several neighboring homes for elevated levels of gas, but didn’t get any confirmed “hits” on combustible gas detectors, according to supplemental incident reports. One crew instructed a resident “to close a window to not allow the natural gas inside,” according to the same supplemental report.

Simultaneously, several other residents reported smelling gas in the area, including 66-year-old Sandra Staley, according to police documents. After Colmenero reported the initial leak, “(Aurora Fire) responded and knocked on everyone’s doors,” Staley told police. “(Aurora Fire) told Sandra that everything was ok.”

Xcel staffers confirmed that all gas connections in the area were turned off at 7:05 p.m.

Contractors Bohrenworks LLC and Integrated Communications Services, or ICS, were both ordered to produce materials for the investigation, according to the reports. 

Investigators later extracted the compromised gas line and found “several holes in it in a pattern consistent with being struck by the boring bit,” according to the investigation reports. 

The exact ignition source was not officially determined, according to Eitel’s analysis. 

“There were lit, decorative electrical candles in the windows of 13962 (E. Linvale Place) … There were also several electrical household appliances and gas fired appliances recovered during the scene exam,” he wrote. “Anyone of these appliances should be considered as a possible ignition source.”

Several other homes were decimated in the blaze. 

A Comcast spokesperson said the company is still reviewing the recently released investigation reports.

“Our hearts go out to the families impacted by the events of last year, and we continue to work with the Heather Gardens Community,” Comcast spokeswoman Leslie Oliver said in a statement. “In light of the pending claims, and the fact that Comcast has yet to review a copy of the report, we are unable to comment further.”

A separate records request filed by The Sentinel last year found that firefighters responded to Heather Gardens at least four times in the three weeks before the explosion in mid-November.

Colmenero told investigators Xcel Energy workers who responded to the scene shortly after the line was struck “became angry with him and told him they were tired of the gas lines being hit,” according to the police report.

Colmenero, who said he has since been “let go” by his former employer Bohrenworks, told police he had never hit utilities while boring prior to the explosion, according to the reports.