Tolliver Heirs Plan Lawsuit After Home Explosion

Firefighters battle flames after explosion at 1905 SW Navajo Lane
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Attorneys for Lucinia Tolliver's family say several parties acted with negligence when a gas line was hit near her home at 1905 Navajo Lane in late January.

The 81-year-old who was called "Lucy" by friends and neighbors suffered severe burn injuries and died four days after her home exploded.

"We're gonna be suing the yard service N-Line [Lawn] Service for their negligence and also Kansas Gas Service for their negligence," Thomas Ruzicka with Olathe-based Hubbard, Ruzicka, Kreamer & Kincaid L.C. said.

"It shouldn't have happened," he said.

The law firm is conducting its own investigation as to the causation, Ruzicka, who represents the Tolliver estate, said. He told 13 News the operator with N-Line Lawn Services pulled an irrigation line that hit a gas service line to the home. "They didn't break that line, but pulled it from the main trunk line," causing the gas leak. "The [...] worker when he observed that, smelled the gas, he then called the gas service company," Ruzicka said. "They put him on hold for 17, 18 minutes and never bothered to take his call. He hung up, called, I believe, the fire department," at which point the fire department summoned Kansas Gas Service.

Ruzicka said "the gas people then went out to the scene, and in the process of looking and probing in the yards to determine the location of the service line, did not realize that the line had been pulled from the main trunk line. They also did not contact the neighbors around the home and remove them from the house," he said.

Ruzicka said Kansas One-Call told him the area had been marked prior to the incident.

A Kansas Gas Service company spokeswoman would not comment on the specifics, saying the incident is still under investigation with the Kansas Corporation Commission.

"The yard service came in contact with the line, and there's absolutely no explanation why Kansas Gas Service did not answer the phone and get out and provide emergency service," Ruzicka said.

KGS has previously said it received a call at 10:37 AM and dispatched workers to the site within a half hour. The house exploded shortly after 11:30 AM.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor last week told 13 News criminal charges will not be filed.

Meanwhile, on Navajo Lane, neighbors are still dealing with the aftermath. About half a dozen homes were affected by the blast and fire and are still undergoing repairs. At 1905 Navajo, debris sits piled high and standing water has accumulated in the exposed basement of the Tolliver home.

Neighbors say it has become an eyesore and is dangerous to passers-by.

"Well it if were just a pleasant sight, I think it wouldn't bring back the reminder of what happened that day," neighbor Lois Jones said. "Not only the sight is awful, the smell is awful," she said.

"Every day, it's what I see. And it just reminds me so much of what happened that day and the loss of my neighbor."

Ruzicka said the family now has permission to clean up the area and he's working with contractors to get the site cleaned and planted over with grass.

The family may seek more than a million dollars in the lawsuit, but is awaiting the Kansas Corporation Commission's report, he said, which is not expected until July.