Family sues over Christmas explosion

SAN BENITO — In the early morning hours of Christmas Day, a San Benito family was waking up to celebrate.

Unknown to them, a large propane gas cloud had formed in the house.

When the gas ignited, it caused an explosion that “blew the roof from the home,” killing two people and severely injuring six others.

This is all according to a lawsuit filed yesterday morning in state district court in Starr County against six companies.

Two victims and relatives of victims filed the lawsuit against Harlingen-based Hino Gas Sales and Lowe’s Home Centers.

The lawsuit also names the manufacturers of the family’s propane tank and the tank’s regulator as defendants, as well as the company that sold the tank.

The family alleges these companies were negligent and contributed to the explosion that killed two of their loved ones and injured the others.

Alex Hinojosa Jr., president and CEO of Hino Electric Power Company, said the company had not been served with the lawsuit. He expressed his condolences to the family and referred questions to the company’s attorney.

The attorney, John McCoy, said he has not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it. He also said the explosion is still under investigation.

A spokeswoman for Lowe’s said it is the company’s practice to not comment on pending litigation.

“Propane providers in Texas are legally required to ensure that the gas system in a home is up to code prior to providing propane. The propane tank and piping at the home where the explosion occurred were not code compliant. Propane should never have been provided. Hino Gas provided propane to the home,” the lawsuit states.

“When a gas appliance is removed, the line to the appliance must, by code, be properly capped. Lowe’s Home Centers removed two gas appliances from the home, and replaced them with electric appliances. Lowe’s did not, however, properly cap the gas lines.”

The family seeks more than $500 million in damages for physical pain, mental anguish, loss of wages, loss of earning capacity, disfigurement, physical impairment, survival damages and medical care.

Genesis Gonzalez, 25, and Juan Ramon Leos, 28, died from injuries they received in the explosion, leaving behind two little girls ages 7 and 1.

Both girls suffered burns to almost 70 percent of their bodies and are currently being treated at a hospital in Galveston.

Of the nine people in the home, two other children, 11 and 14, suffered burns to 60 percent of their bodies. Two other adults suffered burns to 40 percent of their bodies and are currently being treated in San Antonio.

One of them faces potential amputation of the feet. Each victim faces a year or more of recovery, the lawsuit says.

Of the nine, only the grandmother escaped injury because she was in the shower.

The lawsuit states the propane tank was purchased from La Pulga De Rio LLC in Rio Grande City. A spokesperson for the company could not be located.

Two companies said the lawsuit names the wrong manufacturers.

The lawsuit states the propane tank was designed or manufactured by “Thompson Tanks, Inc.” in Downey, California.

However, the president of a company named “Thompson Tank Inc.” — with no “S” in the word tank — in Downey, said they have the wrong company.

“We’ve never manufactured a propane tank since 1950, since our existence. So they’ve got the wrong company,” Thompson Tank president David B. Thompson said by telephone.

He said a company named “Thompson Tanks,” with an S, which manufactured small propane tanks, may have gone bankrupt.

“We had issues with this company because we would get a lot of their phone calls. A lot of the information that was meant for them would come to us,” he said.

“We had tried for a while to get copy right infringement for ‘Thompson Tank Incorporated’ to get them to change their company name because of the confusion between the two companies.

“I can tell you for a fact we had nothing to do with the manufacturing, assembly or anything else having to do with a propane tank because we never have since 1950.”

He said his company makes low-pressure, mobile vacuum equipment for hazardous waste.

The lawsuit also names a company named “Engineered Controls, Inc.” in Omaha, Nebraska, as the manufacturer of the propane tank regulator.

However, a spokeswoman for a company named Engineered Controls in Omaha also said they have the wrong company.

“You have the wrong Engineered Controls,” the spokeswoman said in a voice mail, adding that there are other companies named “Engineered Controls.”

“Not sure which one you’re looking for, but it’s not this one in Omaha.”