By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – An Alcorn County woman’s family wants $4.25 million in damages for her death from injuries after her trailer exploded in 2010.
Their wrongful death lawsuit claims Pacer-Pittman Propane LLC of Corinth and unnamed employees were negligent when they handled and refilled the home’s propane tank after it was severed by a flood, then reconnected.
“They could have prevented this,” said their attorney, Casey Lott of Booneville.
PPP’s attorney, John V. McCoy, told the eight-member federal jury that the trailer blew up likely because Geraldine Mullins lit a cigarette in the back bedroom.
“Down the hallway is where the fire started,” McCoy said. “The only person there was Ms. Mullins.”
Opening statements were made Tuesday before Senior U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson. The trial is set for two weeks in Aberdeen.
The day’s three witnesses included two PPP employees and a former employee, who cleaned and repaired a propane heater brought in by Mullins’ boyfriend, Jerry Wilbanks.
The defense claims Wilbanks incorrectly re-connected the heater and set off a gas leak.
Wilbanks and two others also were burned or injured in the Dec. 7, 2010, blast off County Road 676 in Kossuth.
Mullins, 65, suffered burns over 10 percent of her body, Lott said, but the most serious and ultimately fatal injury came when she breathed in the flames and damaged her respiratory system. She died four months later after incurring more than $745,000 in medical bills.
The day’s most dramatic testimony came from Dudley Geohegan, a PPP gas truck driver. He delivered 100 gallons of propane gas on Dec. 6, 2010, to the Mullins-Wilbanks residence.
He said no one told him the tank had been severed during a flood or that it had been reconnected without pressure testing and appliance pilot checks.
Geohegan said if he had known he would not have made the delivery.
Earlier, PPP service technician Joe Butler said he repaired the gas tank and reconnected it to the trailer’s service line.
Butler said it was company policy, after such a service interruption, to enter the home, check the gas pressure and restore appliances to service after an empty tank is refilled.
But, he said, he didn’t do it because the tank was empty.
Harold Holder, a retired highway patrolman, was PPP’s heater repairman when Wilbanks brought his appliance to be cleaned and repaired in December 2010. He said it was old and very dirty, but still had an instruction label on how to work it.
Holder said he didn’t inquire of Wilbanks about whether he had a trained technician to reinstall the heater.
Lott asked numerous questions of all three men about safety policies associated with purging air from gas lines.
Testimony resumes today at 9 a.m.