Pass the Buck and Turn a Blind Eye

It turns out that a South Dakota-based work crew that accidentally hit a natural gas line while laying cable for AT&T last Wednesday, February 5, was unlicensed. The resulting explosions and fire—which  I talked about in my February 7  blog—destroyed a three-story building housing the Stars Design Group in Soulard and left its employees distraught over their frightening close call. Approximately a dozen employees escaped the building only seconds before it erupted in flames. The force of the explosions threw Azem Dullovi, a 29-year old employee of the business, several feet in the air and onto his back. “My back hurt, especially my neck and my head when I hit that…it’s a lot of pain,” said Dullovi.

Operating Without a Business Permit

News Channel 4 investigative reporter, Craig Cheatham, said that St. Louis City officials had told him that the Four Winds Construction Company, hired by main contractor MasTec, Inc., hadn’t secured a business license or permit to do the work.  The City knew nothing about the unapproved work. “It’s like not having referees at a basketball game…we need people there to make sure they do the right things the correct way,” said St. Louis Public Safety Director, Richard Gray.

While no one apparently went to the hospital for injuries, employees and residents in the neighborhood were complaining of headaches caused by the strong smell of gas still permeating the air the following day, as well as irritated eyes, noses and mouths from inhaling the dense, acrid smoke that enveloped the area.

21 homes and businesses in the nearby area had to be evacuated while Laclede Gas crews went door to door searching for migrating gas that could potentially spark further explosions. The fire could not be extinguished until gas crews had turned off gas and electrical service to the area. The building was declared a total loss five hours later when fire crews finally got the go-ahead to put out the fire. Several residents in the vicinity said that the explosions had knocked brick s out of nearby buildings.

Silence and Excuses

Four Winds was hired by AT&T subcontractor, MasTec, Inc., an engineering firm, to install the cable. A review of City records showed that AT&T’s application for a work permit was still pending in December. As of yet, AT&T, MasTec, Inc., and Four Winds have remained mum about the disaster. AT&T spokeswoman, Katie Nagus, declined comment when contacted by the St. Louis Post Dispatch late last week other than issuing an emailed statement that AT&T requires its contractors to follow all laws and licensing requirements.  “Because we were aware the permit was pending and had not yet been issued for the project in Soulard, we had not instructed our contractor to begin work on this project.” Nagus referred questions about its contractors to Brian Equi, a lawyer for MasTec. He declined comment. A woman who answered the phone last Thursday at Four Winds’ South Dakota headquarters also declined to comment.

Public Apology and Full Disclosure in Order

Excuse me for a minute while I ponder this situation. The Stars Design Group is left without its place of business. Approximately a dozen employees barely escaped with their lives. At least one employee was injured when he was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosions.  21 buildings in the vicinity had to be evacuated on one of the coldest days of the year, and residents could not return until utilities had been restored much later that night. Stars employees and neighborhood residents were still suffering the following day from irritated eyes, noses and mouths from inhaling the dense smoke that shrouded the area.

And what is the response of the corporate players responsible for this mess? Nothing,  zip, nada…that is unless you count the pass- the- buck excuses issued by AT&T.

A few years ago, I wanted to make some modest improvements to my home. Like everybody else I was required to jump through the usual bureaucratic hoops—I had to secure a permit and hire only licensed workers to do the renovations.  It would’ve been a heck of a lot easier to cut corners and do the work on the sly. But hey, that’s the law, and the penalties are steep if you choose not to follow it.

Apparently, AT&T, MasTec and Four Winds felt they were above the law in this case. I don’t buy AT&T’s flimsy excuse that they weren’t aware that the work had started. It’s always easier to turn a blind eye in headlong pursuit of protecting the bottom line. If, however, AT&T really was ignorant of the fact that the work had begun with unlicensed contractors while the permit was still pending, then it makes me worry about what else they don’t know. At the very least, it would be nice to see a formal, public apology by AT&T, MasTec and Four Winds to Stars, its employees, and the residents of Soulard as well as full disclosure of the hazy (as in smoke) circumstances surrounding this disaster.

Yes, They Were!

Reports of the explosions have consistently said that no one was injured. That is not true. No one—at least that I am aware of—went to the hospital following the incident. That doesn’t mean they weren’t hurt. Someone who has been knocked several feet into the air and onto his back is injured. Employees and residents of the neighborhood still suffering headaches and the effects of smoke inhalation the following day were injured. Please, let’s not minimize the destructive impact of this situation more than it already has been.

If you or a loved one has been hurt by the negligent or purposeful actions of another–even if that “someone” happens to be a corporate giant—you do have recourse. Please contact a top trial lawyer who excels in representing the interests of the “little guy, the common man”. Call for a free consultation today to discuss your legal options. You can reach us at any time: at 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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