Contractor Called Gas Company Before House Explosion

By: Giang Nguyen Email
By: Giang Nguyen Email
Firefighters battle flames after explosion at 1905 SW Navajo Lane

Firefighters battle flames after explosion at 1905 SW Navajo Lane

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Gas remains off tonight in the neighborhood where an elderly woman's home blew up yesterday.

13 News spoke today with Glen Niehues of -N-line lawn services in Wetmore - he was operating the equipment that hit the gas line that sparked the explosion.

He says he realized he hit the line and called Kansas Gas Service to report it.

But before they could get there to turn it off, the house exploded.

Neighbors who say what happened next were acts of heroism to save the woman inside.

Ernest Wiley was one of the first to the scene and shot video just minutes after the blast at 1905 SW Navajo Lane shook Southwest Topeka Monday .

"I looked out of my window and couldn't belive what I saw, he said. Iit was like a bomb hit the house. Even a tornado don't do that kind of damage," he said.

He witnessed the dramatic rescue of the home's elderly resident by two Kansas Gas Service workers who had just arrived.

"I saw the man who pulled her up. His name is Steve Davis. He works for Kansas Gas Service," Wiley recounted, still visibly agitated at the memory. "He pulled her up out of the basement, put her over his left shoulder when there was flames 30 feet tall."

"He's a hero, Steve Davis."

Michael Martin, a fire investigator for the City of Topeka, said the victim, 81-year old Lucinia Tolliver, is in critical but stable condition at KU Medical Center.

The Capital-Journal reports Tolliver retired from the paper as a typesetter in December 1995.

Her husband, Gerald had died just a couple years earlier, neighbor said, and she lived alone.

Tuesday morning, Wiley and neighbors were still shaken about how a life's work went up in flames in seconds.

"It was an expensive house and it was well taken care of, inside and out," Wiley said.

There has been no official damage estimate, but county records indicate Tolliver's home is appraised at $151,100.

Kansas Gas Service was doing pressure testing in the area, as investigator worked the scene.

"At this point, our main goal is to secure the scene, preserve the evidence," Investigator Martin said.

"Tthe contractor was working in the back yard. It appears at this time that he did call Dig Safe, and [the gas lines] were marked and we're working with that information," he said.

The contractor was working in the back of a 1912 SW Arrowhead Road property, installing a sprinkler system when his machinery hit the gas line.

District Attorney Chad Taylor has not said whether he will file criminal charges against the operator of the machinery that struck the gas line.


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