UPDATE: Driver says he didn't know tank severed by flood before he delivered gas to it

By Patsy R. Brumfield / Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – A propane gas delivery driver said Tuesday he would not have put 100 gallons of gas into an Alcorn County tank if he’d known it had been ripped away by a flood months before.
“I didn’t know about any (service) interruption,” said Dudley Geohegan, who testified with some difficulty because of hearing impairment.
He said company policy prohibited his delivering gas to an out-of-gas tank when no one was at home, when he stopped at Jerry Wilbanks’ trailer on Dec. 7, 2010. He insisted he didn’t believe the tank was empty.
Earlier today, a propane gas technician says it’s company policy to enter a home, check gas pressure and restore appliances to service after an empty tank is refilled.
Joe Butler, the Pacer-Pittman tech, said he didn’t do that because when he restored service to Geraldine Mullins’ trailer, the tank was still empty. However, he admitted that whoever filled the tank next should have.
Mullins’ four children seek $4.25 million in damages from Pacer-Pittman Propane LLC after she died of respiratory injuries from a Dec. 7, 2010, gas explosion at her Alcorn County trailer home.
An eight-member jury sits in judgment, selected on Monday. Senior U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson presides over the trial expected to last two weeks in Aberdeen.
Casey Lott of Booneville told the jury that 65-year-old Mullins was the only person who died in the explosion, which he insists was caused by the negligence of Pacer-Pittman and unnamed employees.
Defense attorney, John V. McCoy, insists the fault lies with Mullins’ friend, Jerry Wilbanks, who he said allowed gas to escape into the trailer, then explode after something ignited it.
Pacer-Pittman contends it’s most likely that Mullins lit a cigarette to set off the blast, but Lott argues she knew better.
• • •
(Below is a running account of today’s courtroom proceedings. Please excuse the typos and other glitches likely as I type rapidly.)
LOTT CONTINUES PLAINTIFF’S CASE [Exhibits are numbered “P” for plaintiffs and “D” for defense.] Calls Dudley Geohegan, as an adverse witness.
JUDGE – This gentleman is hearing impaired and we have special equipment for him.
GEOHEGAN – From Long MS. Employed PP on Oct. 7, 2010. That day, delivered 100 pounds of propane to Jerry Wilbanks’ tank.
(Lott – P8 – Safety Notice – if you are out of gas … Is that your delivery ticket to Wilbanks’ residence that day?) Yes. (Was that tank out of gas when you arrived?) No. (Did you know, did gauge read Zero percent?) Gauge was down but it had pressure in it. (Could you hear it?) I opened the bleeder valve, you could smell it and feel pressure coming out. (Did you hear it that day?) Yes. (Clearly, you are hearing impaired?) I’m not completely deaf now. (You hear well enough to hear gas coming out of bleeder valve?) I can hear you but I can’t make the word out. (All right, gauge said Zero percent full?) Yes. (So, it must not have been accurate because tank had gas in it?) Yes. (Know that because you could hear pressure coming out?) Yes. (If I told you that Joe Butler said tank didn’t hae pressure on June 1, and no deliveries in between, would that surprise you?) I don’t know about that. (But you knew tank was disconnected by the flood?) I didn’t now it had been disconnected. No.
(You remember giving a deposition in this case?) Yes. (Remember telling me you were aware tank was disconnected by flood?) I don’t remember telling you that. [Shows him his deposition on the screen.] (Page 35 – I ask you, said tank carried off in 2010. And on June 1, Mr. Butler re-set the tank and connected to the home? You said you heard it was done but you weren’t there. Is that what you said at deposition?) I didn’t remember it for a long time after that. .. didn’t learn. (Not until after you made that delivery?) No. (Didn’t know it was re-set until after you made the delivery in October 2010?) No, I didn’t know it. (That’s not what you told me at your deposition, is it? I said, Did he tell you before or after? You said I guess it was before, I don’t know. Is that what you said?) (Do you recall you learned about tank re-set before or after the explosion?) I can’t recall. (Fair enough.)
(OK, we’ve established you believe there was gas in the tank that day because you could hear the pressure coming out?) Yes. (Do you know if service valve on tank was on or off when you got there?) I don’t know. I never turned it. (If it was off, you never turned it on?) No. (So if Joe Butler said he left it off, and you came on Oct. 7 and never turned it on, it was off the whole time? Do you know?) I don’t know if it’s on or off. (If it’s off, no way to get your appliance to light?) No. (Did you conduct leak check on Oct. 7, when put 100 gallons of gas in tank?) No. (No, didn’t conduct one?) No. (Yes or no. Did you conduct a leak check that day?) No. (Because you thought gas was in the tank?) Yes.
(Are you familiar with NFPA54?) Part of it. (Know what NFPA stands for?) National Fire Protection Association. (Ever read NFPA54?) I read part of it. (Not all of it?) No, not read the whole book. (Do you know it’s been adopted in MS and it’s the law in this state for propane retailers?) No. (Didn’t know until now?) No. (Do you know if NFPA54 requires drivers like you to purge air out of customers’ lines each time they find a tank that’s empty or service interrupted?) Yes. (Does it require purge?) Yes. (You didn’t purge any air from Wilbanks’ line on day in question?) No. (Because thought tank had gas?) Yes.
(Do you know if NFPA54 requires drivers like you to purge with cylinder air after tanks go empty or are interrupted?) No. (You don’t think it does?) No, I don’t think it does. Yes,you purge air out of lines. (And out of tank too?) Yes. (Familiar with Certified Employee Training Program?) Yes, been to it. (Received its training?) Yes. (Show you P92 – Purging Vapor Distribution Lines or Appliances. Read any documents on this?) Yes. (See where it says line purging necessary of all new systems or modified systems. Agree?) Yes. (Agree that having tank disconnected by a flood and putting 20 more inches of pipe on is modifying the system?) Yes. (Also says line purging necessary when systems are shut down for extended time or interruption of gas service. Agree that this tank had interruption when severed by the flood waters, regardless of whether it was out of gas?) Yes.
(P94 – Placing appliances into initial operation …. requirement for placing into service after an interruption. After leak checked, all equipment purged and placed into operation. Did I read that correctly?) Yes. (Requirement of NFPA54?) Yes. (P95 – Identifying procedures for handling interruption of service, out-of-gas calls and leak checking distribution piping systems … Agree with me that piping from Wilbank’s tank underground and into his home is distribution piping system?) Yes. (See where says identifying hazards pertaining to out-of-gas calls. Hazard means danger, correct?) Yes. (See where one listed is – purging air from system displaced by propane vapors?) Yes. (Agree that’s dangerous?) Yes. (If don’t do it right, get too much gas in house and it might explode?) Yes.
(Agree with me that on out-of-gas calls, NFPA54 and Pp policies require drivers, techs to go inside the house and put appliances back into service before they leave?) Yes. (P91 – review this document. Insurance Commissioner bulletin. Ever seen it before?) Can’t recall seeing one like it but I’ve read pretty near the same thing. (To show you documents request in this case. Remember at deposition you said you and Mr. Butler had materials in truck take to work sites. Recall that?) Yes, I have one in my truck like that. (You do?) Yes. (Offer it into evidence. OBJECTION – SUSTAINED. (You said you had one of these in your truck. Did you refer to this document during your work at PP?) Yes. (This document by Mike Chaney, insurance commissioner, to all liquified gas owners, includes PP. LC gas Division of Insurance Dept. – responsible to make sure laws are complied with?) Yes. JUDGE – STATE YOUR SPECIFIC OBJECTION. MCCOY – he’s not qualified to testify to what that means. JUDGE – HE SAID HE HAD one in truck but thought he said he hadn’t read it. (Lott – I think he said he had read it.)
JUDGE – MCCOY, WANT to ask him questions? MCCOY – Yes.
(McCoy – See that document?) Yes. (You said it was in your truck and recall reading it before today?) I’m not sure, I’ve got so many in there. (You don’t recall?) No. OBJECTION SUSTAINED. (LOTT – We can get into it with other employees.
(Lott – AGREE WITH STATEMENTS IN this document? Leak checks should include interior examination and re-lighting of pilots to assure proper operation of appliances?) Yes. (P89 – Identifying Procedures for purging lines indoors. Propane Education Council. Says equipment … use controllable auxiliary combustion burner and continuous ignoter or combustible gas indicator. Look at figure 2. Have you ever used gas re-igniter after out-of-gas service call?) No. (Ever used them at all to re-light an appliance after purged the air?) No. (Refer to Pg 43 of your deposition – Do you now what LP gas igniter? You said on wall or stove? I said no, hand-held igniter to purge appliances indoors. You said, I don’t know about that. We carry long cigarette lighter and hold the pilot down. You see that?) I’ve got the long lighter. I got the one on the top. [Points to long lighter.]
(Why use those when purging appliances indoors?) Got to find out when the gas is coming out. (How does that help you?) When air gets out, gas starts to burn. Air won’t burn. (Right. So, that’s the safe way to bleed or purge air out of line indoors?) If you do it the correct way, it is. (Even on automatic ignition appliances?) Sure, got to use the lighter on them. (Customers don’t have these, do they?) JUDGE – DO YOU KNOW? SUSTAIN OBJECTION. SPECULATION ON HIS PART.
(Agree with me that PP has a lot of customers who aren’t trained enough to purge air from appliances or light them?) JUDGE – ASK HIM IF HE KNOWS. (Do you have any personal knowledge of whether some of PP’s customers aren’t trained or qualified enough to purge air from their own lines and light their appliances?) Sure, a lot of people aren’t trained. They wouldn’t know what to do. (Did you say half of people you encounter can’t do it?) Correct. (Always safer for you or Joe Butler to do it than customer?) Yes.
(P10 – Out of Gas Policy and Procedure … look at screen, read document and tell me if that’s PP’s policy on Oct. 7, 2010?) Yes. (Says, when out-of-gas calls occur, have service tech perform leak check and light pilot until driver can fill the tank. Correct?) Yes. (Only pertains to drivers who aren’t qualified to conduct these checks?) I wasn’t saying it that way. (If you wanted to deliver 100 gallons of gas to empty propane tank, could you conduct leak check and place appliances back into service?) Yes. (Because you are trained?) Yes. (A delivery driver without that training, would have to wait on service tech?) WE’ve all had that training. (But one time, not all drivers had that training?) I don’t know about that.
(Same document – If driver arrives before service tech, he may fill tank but must remove the pigtail from service valve and plug valve with tamper proof, lockable plug. Correct?) Yes. (Purpose is … not to supply gas until leak check and appliances back into service?) Yes. (So, if you pull up to a home and empty tank or interruption of service, customer is not home…you can’t go inside to purge and light appliances… you’re not suppose to deliver gas or plug valve with lockable plug? Correct?) You drive off. You don’t put no gas in it. (Was Wilbanks home when you delivered gas on Oct. 7?) No. Didn’t see nobody. (Did you knock on door?) No. (If that tank was out of gas, or if you had known about interruption without line purging or appliances checked, would you have delivered gas?) OBJECTION – JUDGE – PLEASE REPEAT AND BREAK UP.
(Lott – if tank empty, would you have delivered gas?) No. (Known an interruption of service and appliances weren’t back in operation, would you have delivered gas to that tank?) No. (If you had known gas was off, would you have delivered it?) OBJECTION – REPHRASE. (If jury finds that gas was off at tank and was on Oct.l 7, 2010, should you have delivered gas that day?) No. (No, wouldn’t delivered gas?) I don’t understand. (If you had noticed tank valve was off, would that have told you about interruption on that tank?) Yes. (If known an interruption on tank, would you have delivered gas that day?) I didn’t know about interruption. (Say you didn’t know about interruption?) I didn’t read that right. No, I would not have delivered. (Because … PP policy says don’t deliver to out-of-gas tanks when no one is at home?) Yes. (Don’t deliver gas after interruption if customer is not home?) No (No, you don’t deliver or no, that’s not correct?) No you don’t deliver.
(P11 – Customer Notice of Out of Gas Policy – Is that a notice of PP’s policy it supposedly is provided to customers?) Yes. (See where it says – if you run out of gas or it’s turned off … won’t be restored …until responsible adult is there to let someone in to restore service?) Yes. (To relight all pilots?) Yes. (When make out of gas delivery and can’t make safety checks, PP will disconnect line at tank?) Yes. (All safety checks by PP employee?) Yes. (Policy Oct. 7, 2010?) Yes. (See at bottom … apologize for inconvenience.. this is for your safety and required by state and federal law?) Yes. (Required?) Yes. OBJECTION – CALLS FOR LEGAL CONCLUSION. JUDGE – OVERRULED. Document speaks for itself. I suppose I sustained your objection.
(P8 – Safety Notice … with copy of delivery ticket Oct. 7, 2010, to Wilbanks’ tank. Correct?) Yes. (Safety notes on right, on back of ticket?) Yes. (See it says, if you run out of gas… have us turn valves back on, light pilots, check controls. Policy?) Yes. (But you didn’t ask because you didn’t think anybody was home?) No. (You didn’t think anybody was home?) Didn’t think nobody was at the house. (P32 – Propane Safety Information brochure. Recognize this?) Yes. (See part – Running Out of Gas?… Is this PP document to its customers?) OBJECTION – .. OVERRULED
(Asked him if he knows … JUDGE – THIS LOOKS REPETITIVE). LOTT – trying to establish …. JUDGE – GO AHEAD, LET’S MOVE ALONG. Asking same questions over and over. Go ahead.
(Do you agree if propane tanks run out of gas, pilot lights will go out and can be dangerous?) Yes. (Why?) They get blown up. (Let’s move on – Ask you about whether propane appliances such as heaters should be installed by qualified technicians. Do you now of NFPA54 require installation only by qualified agents?) Yes. (Is that propane service provider?) Yes. (Customer isn’t a qualified agency?) OBJECTION – SUSTAINED
(You’re required to comply with NFPA54, aren’t you?) Yes. (You need to know what it says and interpret it?) OBJECTION – OVERRULED. (Based on your reading, is a customer a qualified agent to install appliances?) OBJECT – I’M GOING TO LET HIM ANSWER – YES OR NO. Geoghean – No.
(So if a customer dropped heater off at PP office to be cleaned or serviced, should PP allow them to install it?) I don’t know about that. (You know that only qualified agents should do it, correct?) Yes. (You’ve said customer isn’t qualified?) Yes. (So, PP should be giving heaters to customers to install, correct?) OBJECTION – SUSTAINED – nothing in record about giving him a heater.
4:08 P.M. – HE’S EXCUSED.
HOLDER – From Corinth. Former PP employee. Was responsible for serving and cleaning heaters as PP office prior to this explosion.
(Lott – Did you clean Wilbank’s heater Dec. 2010?) Yes. (Recall doing that?) I do. (When got the heater, was it dirty?) It was. (Tell me what you saw, its condition on Dec. 6, 2010) Real dusty, had buildup on cabinet and inside working parts. Fluke was real dusty and dirty with debris. (Hook it up and test it before you cleaned it?) No. It would not have worked properly, dirty and dusty as it was. Might have lit, Didn’t try it. (Did you talk to Wilbanks?) No sir. (There when he picked it up?) Not sure. Didn’t know when he did. (Leave it up front for ladies to give to him?) Not up front. Little area we put things when finished and ready to go. (Give any other employees instructions for him?) No sir. (Didn’t say only qualified tech should install it?) No sir. (Policy was OK to service and return to customer?) Yes. (No advice about only qualified tech should install it?) Not sure how that was handled.
(Familiar with NFPA 54?) I know the term but not familiar with the contents? (No training on whether customers can install their own appliances under NFPA54?) No.
MCCOY – TO CROSS-EXAMINE. Give us more background on yourself.
HOLDER – Worked in hospital pharmacies mixing IVs for about 9 years. Worked at different jobs. Horse farm. Was a state trooper. Worked several different jobs since retirement from Patrol. With Patrol 21 years. In Corinth area. Hired by PP in 2003.
(McCoy – Job Dec. 6, 2010 – what was it?) Numerous duties, I filled portable propane cylinders, looked after inventory in warehouse, dispatch service techs, serviced and cleaned heaters brought in for that purpose. (Let’s talk about heaters brought in. Did others do that?) Yes. (How many?) During heating season, would be a lot of heaters. Some days might have 15 or 20. (Common to bring them in to clean?) Yes. (Wilbanks ever brought his in before this?) Yes, I knew him as a customer. Sold him a heater.
(He would take that heater home and install it?) Yes. (When cleaning heater, anybody with you?) Yes, when began the state gas inspector had come in to make visit and was present when I cleaned it. John Gamble. (Did he object to customers coming to pick up their own heaters?) No, when I finished and lit it … turned it off and disconnect it, he helped me clean up the outside for appearance purposes. (He never objected to customers picking it up?) No sir.
(You testified it was dirty, didn’t test it before you cleaned it?) I don’t think it would have been efficient, whether would have lit or not.
JUDGE – I’m curious. Tell us what kind of heater was it? Holder – I don’t remember the make. It was an infrared heater. Had bricks inside. (WHAT YEAR?) Probably could have but not later. (Was it old?) It was old … I can’t answer how old. (Any plates attached to it like warnings?) Serial plate with all the specs, they are required. Instructions on how to re-light the heater. (Has to be on there, whether it’s natural gas or propane?) Yes sir.
(Lott – Would you agree that because customer knows how to attach service pipe, does it mean he can purge a gas line?) JUDGE – Can’t ask someone what another man knows. SUSTAINED
(You said Gamble was present when cleaned heater?) He was. (Did he know customer was going to install the heater?) I don’t know what he knew about who was going to re-install it. (McCoy asked you about the heater condition in two months prior to cleaning it. You said you didn’t know. Based on your experience, do you have an opinion about dust and grime accumulating in a month?) I wouldn’t know. (Judge asked you about instructions on heater. Any independent knowledge of what they said exactly?) Just tells you how to operate controls. (On that heater, did they differ from instructions on a 2013 heater?) No, I’ve never seen any difference in instructions on how to turn knobs. (Don’t remember brand?) No sir.
4:24 – JUDGE ASKS QUESTIONS – You said it had instructions on it, a plate. During course of your work, how many heaters you saw? Nine years – cleaning heaters most of the time. Saw hundreds? Holder – I did. (Judge – would you notice if it didn’t have instruction plate?) I would have. (You’ve seen hundreds?) Yes.
(Lott – To follow the instructions, you have to know how to read?) JUDGE – LET’S QUIT WHERE WE ARE.
Judge – anything else? Excused. 4:26 P.M. Asks attorneys… we’ll stop for the day. Reminds jurors not to discuss. Recess until 9 a.m. Wednesday.
• • •

2:45 P.M. UPDATE
ABERDEEN – A propane gas technician says it’s company policy to enter a home, check gas pressure and restore appliances to service after an empty tank is refilled.
Joe Butler, the Pacer-Pittman tech, said he didn’t do that because when he restored service to Geraldine Mullins’ trailer, the tank was still empty. However, he admitted that whoever filled the tank next should have.
GeraldineMullins’ four children seek $4.25 million in damages from Pacer-Pittman Propane LLC after she died of respiratory injuries from a Dec. 7, 2010, gas explosion at her Alcorn County trailer home.
An eight-member jury sits in judgment, selected on Monday. Senior U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson presides over the trial expected to last two weeks in Aberdeen.
Casey Lott of Booneville told the jury that 65-year-old Mullins was the only person who died in the explosion, which he insists was caused by the negligence of Pacer-Pittman and unnamed employees.
Defense attorney, John V. McCoy, insists the fault lies with Mullins’ friend, Jerry Wilbanks, who he said allowed gas to escape into the trailer, then explode after something ignited it.
Pacer-Pittman contends it’s most likely that Mullins lit a cigarette to set off the blast, but Lott argues she knew better.
• • •
(Below is a running account of today’s courtroom proceedings. Please excuse the typos and other glitches likely as I type rapidly.)
1:30 P.M. – Jury, attorneys return to courtroom. About a half dozen people are in the audience, at least three connected with the trial. (FYI – Jury has two black members, one man and one woman.)
JUDGE – During recess, some jurors said they’d like to take notes. He asks the clerk to give them notepads and pens. He reminds them the notes are not evidence, and that their memories are what matters.
Joe Butler continues on the stand. He is a Pacer-Pittman employee.
(Lott questions him – reminds him they were reviewing documents about purging gas distribution lines prior to placing appliances into service. Correct?) Yes. (Line purging i snecessary on all new sytems or changed or modified systems, or if systems are shut down for extended periods or interrupted service?) Yes. (This was interrupted service?) Yes. (Exhibit P31 – Before we leave this purging document. You don’t disagree with any of this?) No. (Go to P31 – May 2008 Safety Meeting … purging tanks and cylinders. Remember this training in 2008?) I remember classes. I can’t remember that. (Let me ask you about these statements and see if you agree? He begins reading from the document … about removing air from lines and tanks. Was this tank one that lost pressure when line was severed by flood?) Yes. (Tank left open to the atmosphere longer than during routine maintenance?) No sir… (Well, time between flood and service … open to atmosphere?) Yes. (Purging… should be done by a skilled, experienced person?) Yes.
(Exhibit P94 – an objection of relevancy. Objection withdrawn.) (Lott – Another training document. Placing Appliances into Initial Operation. Trained in that?) Yes. (State law… about after interruption of service?) Yes. (Exhibit P95 – document. Identifying Procedures for Handling Interruption of Service … a hazard for out-of-gas calls… lists purging of air from out-of-service tanks?) Yes. (When gas is off, inform users. Did you turn it off and put a warning on it to call dealer before restoration?) No, I don’t remember that. (Do you have those kinds of decals?) I think we do. I am not sure. (What did you say in deposition?) We have decals, not sure about that particular one.
(P87 – it’s a Warning – Do not open container shut-off valve! Do you have an equivalent?) Yes sir. (You didn’t place one on their tank that day?) No. (If you had, would Geohegan have known it was out of gas?) Does it state that? (It says it’s shut off. Is that interruption of service?) Yes, that is correct. (He would have to comply with company policy?) Yes. (Back to training – P95 – when gas supply is off, duty of marketer to inform?) Yes. (Says to use tag, if no one is home?) Correct. (Important to call customer to call company if they have any problems with appliance power outages, or when appliances need to go back into service?) Yes. (If no one is at home, you’re suppose to turn it off and leave tag on this to call you before resume service?) Yes. (Assuming tank was out of gas when Geohegan saw it empty, he should have turned it off and put a tag on it?) Yes.
(P81 – placing appliances and equipment into operation. BAsed on your training, when customer is out of gas with service interruption, then service is restored are you required to go into home and place appliances back into service?) Yes. OBJECTION – CALLS FOR LEGAL CONCLUSION. LOTT – Based on his training and experience, he can. JUDGE – OVERRULED.
(Do regs require you to go inside and put appliances back into service?) Yes, if service to tank interrupted. (P91 – recognize this?) It looks like NFP54. (After review, have you ever seen this?) Not this one. (You have materials in truck when you go on service calls?) Yes. (What kind?) Pamphlets, books on appliances, things of that nature. (Haven’t had this document in your truck?) I don’t remember seeing it.
(Like to show you questions we sent to your attorneys and answers. Asked complete copy of all items stored in your work truck from June 1, 2010. If that wasn’t your truck, was it in Geohegan?) Uh … JUDGE – Is your testimony that you don’t remember. (Butler – yes sir.)
(Lott – I’ll just go through and ask if you agree with these statements of NFP54 … reminders about checks to be performed and how?) Yes sir. (Second page – about leak checks to go inside to check appliances?) Yes. (Whoever added gas should have done that?) Yes sir. (P10 – Out of Gas Policy and Procedure. Does Pacer-Pittman have these policies, as on June 2010 when you filled the tank?) Yes sir. (To reset the tank, tech should light pilots and maintain pressure after leak checks?) Yes. (You would have done if any gas in tank?) Yes, in tank. (Whoever delivered gas next should have done that?) Yes. (Did you notify Corinth office that this tank was out of gas, after you re-set it?) Turned ticket in. (That is notification?) Correct.
(P11 – Did Pacer-Pittman before explosion provide its customers with out-of-gas policy?) Yes sir. (How was it relayed?) I could guess. (Don’t guess. Review this and let me know if that was the policy prior to the explosion.) Yes sir. (Reads document – 5 procedures listed to be performed until service is restores. Responsible adult must be there?) Yes. (Nobody there, you don’t deliver or put lock on regulator?) Correct. (Relight all pilots?) Yes. (If can’t perform safety check, must disconnect gas supply?) Yes. (All safety checks must be performed by Pittman Propane employees?) Yes.
(Required to go inside, make sure appliances are working after re-connection of service?) That is correct. (P8 – this is a delivery ticket, Oct. 7, 2010. To Wilbanks residence?) Correct. (Says 100 gallons delivered, this is 250-gal tank?) Correct. (That’s 40 percent?) Yes. (Gauge read 35 percent?) Correct. (Gauges aren’t accurate?) Right. (Says, if you run out of gas, have PP turn valves back on and light the pilots?) Yes. (Says, Never tamper with appliances and let PP employes do it.) Yes. (All gas appliances must be installed by qualified agents?) Yes. (P32 – Recognize this document? “Propane Safety?”) Yes, I do. (Says lighting pilots … if it repeatedly goes out, may e safety problem. Strongly recommend qualified service tech light any pilot that’s gone out? Agree?) Yes. PP policy prior to explosion. (See here – Running out of Gas … don’t run out, serious safety hazards can explode?) Yes. (Says pilot lights can go out, can be extremely dangerous? Why?) If pilot goes out, shuts main valves down in appliance. (If you run out of gas, pilot goes out. But must you purge air from line first?) Yes. (Can that be dangerous?) If not done in a correct manner.
(Those were written materials PP provided to its customers?) Yes. (If you can read?) Yes, that is correct. (P92 – asked you about training document discussed earlier – purging lines. Last page… says procedures to perform when all line purging is complete – leak check, appliances placed into service. Done after out-of-gas calls?) Yes. (Flow pressure test and lock-up test?) Yes. (After that. place appliances back into service … so after service interruptions, you should really place the appliances back into service twice?) Yes sir.
(P93 – Leak checking with high-pressure gauge. Have you received training about this?) Yes. (But this last step … Step 10 – place appliance back into service according to company policy?) Yes. (PP policy to put back into service?) Yes. (Would have done that if had gas?) Yes. (Whoever re-filled tank should have done that?) Yes. (P94 – Placing appliances into initial operation …. says after p8ping rechecked, all equipment purged and placed into operation?) Yes. (P95 – How do you do a leak check? Can you use multiple devices?) [Man tells him the equipment name, can’t hear exactly what he said.] (Do policies change depending on instrument?) Pretty much the same.
(Step 13 – place appliances back into service. Agree it’s required?) Yes sir.
(State law NFP54 … does it state that appliances can only be installed by qualified agents?) Yes. (Propane agent, not customer?) Yes. (Propane company required to install all appliances it sells?) Correct. (P-8 – Delivery ticket we talked about earlier. Says all gas appliances must be installed by qualified service technicians?) Yes. (PP’s policy before explosion?) Yes. (You testified that when you removed the portable cylinder … a gas cylinder to leak-check with gas … when removed the cylinder, the tank depressurized?) No. I was hooked to the regulator. (Did tank have any pressure that day? The 250?) No sir. (And none when you left?) No sir. (So no pressure when Geohegan got there?) There should not have been. (Let’s talk about how you know it’s out of gas? One, look at gauge, or open bleeder valve to check pressure … this one did not?) Right. (But can sometimes tanks can have pressure but not enough to operate appliance?) Yes, it could have a small amount. (How much to operate?) I’ve got to have 7 pounds. This tank had no pressure. (Not enough pressure to operate appliances, that’s an out-of-gas situation?)…. (Way to resolve questions is to go inside and see if appliances work?) No … other ways. Do not have to go into the house. (Only tells you if there’s pressure in tank?) Yes. (But does it say enough to operate appliances?) Not if it’s out of gas.
(P27 – PP Office Policy Manual. Recognize it?) Yes sir. (Your office policy manual, in effect prior to explosion?) Yes sir. (Section – Employee Safety – company deelops safety rules and regs. Says will require periodic safety audits? Has anyone done that with you?) No sir, not that I am aware of. (To educate employees about hazards?) Yes sir. (Earlier you said you got some state training per Insurance Dept.?) Yes. (Training from David Willams?) Yes. (Did he teach you that after out-of-service calls, go in and make sure all appliances are working properly?) Yes, he does. (Is it fair to say that in this instance, after interruption of service, FPA54 and PP policies require leak check and go inside home, purge air from lines and place appliances back into service?) Yes. ( You performed leak check but didn’t go inside because tank was empty?) Yes. (But driver should have known to do so?) Yes.
JUDGE – Mr. Butler, you may go. You may be called later.
Let’s take 15-minute recess.
• • •

ABERDEEN – More than $4 million is sought in damages by the family of an Alcorn County woman, who died of lung injuries four months after a gas explosion destroyed her trailer home.
Casey Lott of Booneville told the jury today that 65-year-old Geraldine Mullins was the only person who died in this explosion, which he insists was caused by the negligence of Pacer-Pittman Propane LLC and unnamed employees.
They failed to follow their own rules and state law for safety, he said, after the trailer’s gas service was disrupted by a flood in 2010.
Judge Glen H. Davidson presides at the federal trial expected to last two weeks in Aberdeen. Jury selection took place Monday.
Lott told the jury that while $4.25 million seems like a lot of money, he will prove to them this situation deserves that level of damages.
Two others were injured in the explosion and survived. They are not parties to this lawsuit filed in 2011.
Opening statements began about 9:45 a.m. after Davidson ruled on various pre-trial motions. The jury includes six men and two women.
Lott is assisted by his father, Duncan Lott. Pacer-Pittman’s team of attorneys are led by John V. McCoy.
• • •
(Below is a running account of today’s courtroom proceedings. Please excuse the typos and other glitches likely as I type rapidly. I will not be covering this every day but will do so periodically until closing arguments and a jury verdict.)
JUDGE – Reminds jurors that attorneys’ statements are not evidence, that they should depend upon testimony from witnesses.
CASEY LOTT – Propane companies are never allowed to endanger their customers. When someone gets hurt, that company is responsible for the harm they cause. The proof will show that state law requires, indeed this own company, that whenever a customer runs out of gas or discontinued, the company required to purge the line and check appliances before service is restored. If someone gets hurt, the company is responsible.
May 2010, massive flood swept through Alcorn County. Picked up my client’s propane tank and severed a service line, connects tank underground and into home. Tank hits camper and comes to rest. After flood clients called Pacer-Pittman to reset things. June 1, they came out. During that month, the service line was out of ground, exposed to air and rain. They come out and reset tank. New copper piping replaces old line. Tech looks at flow gauge, says Zero percent full. He walks to the house and he asks customer, says sign that I reset your tank. They sign, he gets into truck and is gone.
Four months later, clients prepare for winter. Buy 100 gallons. October, it’s delivered. Tech pulls up, looks at tank, says Zero percent, appears no one is at home. He hooks hose up and puts gas into tank. He leaves. Less than two months later, our clients start to light that propane heater. Mobile home, poorly ventilated. Primary heat source is electric. Also had central heat/air. One propane heater used to supplement electric heat, rarely used it. First delivery in five years.
In December got cold, tried to start heater, wouldn’t light. They take heater into propane dealer for service. They just clean it off, hook it up and see it works. Call to pick it up. They sell him a 4-foot flexer, pipe that hooks to gas line on wall so you can move heater away from wall. They give him heater, piping ad send him home. He gets home, hooks it up. Hits auto igniter. Heater still won’t work, calls Pacer-Pittman. They say you must have air in line. Need to bleed air out of line. He says he’s never done it. They say go ahead. He asks how he will know when air is out Next thing he knows, his house is on fire. He’s severely injured. 30 percent burned Friend seriously hurt. Girlfriend seriously hurt. All airlifted to brandon, Two men make it. Woman dies two months later.
We’re here today for Geraldine Mullins. Niece was there but wasn’t hurt so bad. This case is about Geraldine. Her children are suing Pacer-Pittman for violating three safety rules on four separate occasions.
Proof will show (he points to chart) … state laws requires, and Pacer-Pittman requires, that they purge air out of service line after all interruptions of service. Why would they require that? Their manager at time will say and another … both tell you that when you run out of gas or interruption … that air can get into service line. Your heaters won’t work properly until you get all that air out. Perfect mixture is 96 percent air, 4 percent gas. Too much air and it won’t light, so must get air out. Why is it dangerous? Propane has low flammability rate. Less than perfect mix can ignite and cause explosion.
VEry small amount of gas can cause catastrophic problems. It’s dangerous, that’s why law and their policies say they should do it and not customer. They didn’t do it in this case. They will tell you that although gauge said Zero percent … everyone admits we had service interruption when pipe severed by flood. They will admit policies require they purge and check all appliances. They didn’t do that June 1, or when delivered gas in October.
But they also had two more times to prevent this explosion, and they blew it again. Propane appliances can only be installed by qualified agents, state laws says. Materials they mailed to customers, advises this. But their actions don’t match their words. Have policy to bring your heater back for repairs and they will give it back to you for installation. They’ll sell you 4-foot flexer for you to install it. That’s what they did Dec. 7, but wasn’t last time … they could have prevented this.
He goes back and tries to install. He called and said he can’t light it. They should have tell him to stop and wait for service tech. It’s our job to do it. But they didn’t. They told him to bleed his own line, an unqualified untrained person. Go ahead, the fourth opportunity. They blew it.
Fourth reason … past 2 1/2 years they’ve failed to pay full compensation. We’re forced to be here. They will have fantasy defenses – first, they will admit because they can’t deny that state laws requires that only qualified agents install propane appliances. But they will say Jerry Wilbanks who picked up heater is a qualified agent. Code says examples. What about a plumber, licensed? Sure, but not everybody … all us aren’t all qualified. They want to tell you that Wilbanks was qualified.
Let’s talk about Jerry. He’s simple, good-hearted. But last gad he passed was first grade. After that they just sent him through until he dropped out of 8th grade. He never really learned to read. He’s never worked at propane company. They’ll say he’s a qualified agent. They say anybody with 1st grade education can do it. If what they say is true, no point of having the law. It’s fantasy, fictional, absurd.
My favorite what they will say … they’ll say Jerry didn’t bleed the line right. Yes, because he wasn’t qualified to do it. He didn’t know what to do. If he were qualified, we wouldn’t be here. They contradict. Yes, he didn’t know how. He bled it the only way he knew how and he did it the wrong way. But he never should have been in a position to do that. If they do what’s required, he wouldn’t have to.
Under their theory, it’s like giving keys to car to a 9 year old and claim he’s negligent for a wreck. Also try to divert your attention… they’ll say even if we did something wrong, we shouldn’t pay because it was caused by someone who lighted a cigarette in the back of the house. WE don’t now. Geraldine Mullins isn’t here today. Sparks from light switch… other things can do it. Static electricity. Many potential sources of ignitions. This trailer was demolished. Nobody will ever now. Rumor going around hospital that that’s what happened. Wilbanks woke up in hospital and asked what happened. Someone perhaps told him that.
But we took depositions from lots of doctors. Sworn testimony via video, we’ll play them. They will tell you that nobody in that house ever said that. Probably speculation by family and friends. All four in house smoked, all in the house. But ask yourself this, if she lit a cigarette, do you think she knew there was gas in the house? Who would do that? She didn’t have a death wish. Clearly, if she knew, she wouldn’t have done that. They told her not to light a cigarettes. Wilbanks said he told her. If she did, only because she didn’t know. They will try to divert your attention.
They will try to divert your attention … if they had done their job, complied with state law – we’re not here. That’s the bottom line. Don’t let them divert your attention.
Your verdict form will ask how much money you will allow. Harms and losses, only things to be considered. I must prove to you, through doc depositions. I won’t parade all five kids up here. But I will present a few, not for your sympathy. You can’t let that affect your verdict.
Harms and losses … she had burns over 10 percent of body. Places not covered with clothes. They were gruesome. They were the least. Primary… an inhalation burn. This is common in burn patients. Hot air breathed in, your lungs so soft that it will burn. It will swell and sometimes cause holds in your lungs. Another man survived heat inhalation. But docs will say half of these injuries die. Also, that these injuries were one of the most severe, suffered by Geraldine. They will say most die within first month. One says she’s a fighter and why she lived four. They will tell you…. she was on life support for 2 months. Starts with tube down her throat, has a little balloon on end. Throat begins to swell, so blow up balloon to spread your throat. If too long, causes permanent damage. So they inserted a trach… breathing hole and up here just closes off.
When you have one of those, you eat through tube in stomach. She was still on supplemental oxygen. She got better … a few days without oxygen. But she digressed and went back on oxygen, ultimately smothered to death. Death certificate shows she died by pneumonia caused by injuries from the explosion. They hired pathologist to show you she didn’t. I asked him about certificate – he said he agreed with it. I hope they explain about her death cause.
Geraldine left 5 children, several grandchildren. All except one live in Iowa. But they talked on phone almost every day. She was 67. They will never talk to her on the phone, no more Christmases.
Their fantasies also deal with the cause of her death. They will say she didn’t die … from explosion. They’ll say aneurysm to brain.
She had health problems before explosion, but she didn’t walk with cane or walker. No oxygen. After this, she never took another step alone. After 3 months in hospital, she was as good as she ever would get. Hospital doctor says we’ve done allw e can do: 2 options – one, to nursing home or hospice, or I can give you daughter oxygen machine and be home with family. Can have home health come in and administer morphine. That’s what she wanted to do, so they made arrangements to transport their other to her daughter’s house in Idaho. Doctor said that was OK, he helped set it up. He arranged for EMTs to take her. But on way, she died. She choked to death… but it took a month before she died.
But they will tell you that those five kids killed her with decision to send her to Idaho. A decision her doctor approved. Insult to injury… blame it on you. It’s disgusting… to avoid responsibility. They’ll say she was over medicated. Zero proof. WE have eight docs… none will say meds were in excess. Toxicology report at death shows all drugs in her system were prescribed and within therapeutic limits. But they want to tell you … that you shouldn’t award pain and suffering because she couldn’t feel the pain. But they’ll say that’s what killed, her, pain meds.
They’ll say she had COPD because was lifelong smoker. She was. But none of her earlier med records show any COPD. Doctors will say .. only way to diagnose it… is pulmonary function test that she never had because she didn’t have any difficulty breathing. She saw doc one month before… shows her history … high blood pressure, diabetes. swelling… not one word about COPD. Notes say lungs are clear. Didn’t need this test because she didn’t have any pulmonary problems. Not on oxygen, nebulizer. They will say it. No proof.
Her burn center pulmonologist says no way without pre-explosion proof.
Yes, she wasn’t in perfect health before … but we’re not here for compensations of things before. Not asking for all those things … we’re asking you to look at the harms and losses caused by this explosion. She was totally independent. After explosion, never took another step by herself, needed oxygen, chest tubes out lungs. What we know.
Our case: First to call their employees and let them tell you about policies and procedures. Then, our witnesses – doc depositions, some of her children. Will talk about harms and losses and how to compensate for them. At end, judge will instruct you. Will tell you what the law says. Make up for what can’t fix or help. From day of this blast, she had more than $745,000 med bills. You can completely fix that with award. Also, funeral expenses… we have bills. But what you can’t completely fix … what this did to her life, suffering she endured for four months … what this has done to her kids. Can’t fix that, so law says you can help make up for it.
That’s why this case … I will ask you for a lot of money but you will see it is an … $4.25 million. 10:20 a.m.
10:33 – MCCOY makes his opening statement. Introduces legal team.
First, let me say on behalf of Pacer-Pittman.. we want to extend our sympathy to her family for her loss. No doubt this is a tragedy. Despite the venom displayed… this case is not about me and I will not sling mud. He is representing his client, ask you to extend me the same privileges.
Facts will show … that until Dec. 7 when Wilbanks disconnected the gas heater, there were leaks in system. Evidence that someone lit a cigarette. That Wilbanks added a 4-foot flex hose and added air into the system. Those actions on Dec. 7, none done by Pacer-Pittman.
His three points – evidence will show you nothing in the MS Code says that line this size should be purged. Their expert will say not to small systems. Everyone agrees for lighting an appoliance need air, fuel and ignition source. That’s fire climate. Must have enough gas to make that happen. If go to light appliance with 4-foot hose, must get air out of line to get heater to work. The way you do that…. how our people told him to do it … way manufacturer tells consumer to do that .. on this heater.. press button and hit igniter button. He’d done that 2-3 times before causing.
First, we know appliance worked. It was in the shop and tested it. SEt it up for him to pick up. They claim we must do that … after interruption of service. Law does not say that. Company policy talks about leak checking and lighting appliances for new customers. Employees will say we can’t always get customers to let us do it. Customers light their appliances every day … he had lit it many times. On Dec. 7, he was doing that as he chose to do.
Third, qualified agents … we say and manufacturer says to get one. Wilbanks, who disconnected the line, says he was qualified and had done this numerous times. He also says he could have gotten Pacer-Pittman to do it. He chose to do it himself. State expert says nothing prevents consumer from doing this themselves. Gas company doesn’t have force of will like police officer.
Basic information: Case in Corinth. Pacer-Pittman started locally in 1947. (He shows them the flexer hose) Nothing prevents consumer buy and take home to install. If we’d asked him if he was qualified, he would have said yes. He’s done it in past.
Other testimony (tells who will testify and their dealings with the gas service). They got a lot of training, to do the right thing. (Shows slide of gas connections at tank.) A fill valve … a bleeder valve … vapor return. Men will tell you the tank said Zero content. You can smell gas or hear it. Your hand can feel the pressure of gas coming out. On Oct. 7, man will say tank wasn’t empty. (Shows them a “pig tail.) Connects tank to regulator, which controls the pressure. Replaces regulator on June 1.
(Shows them floor sketch of trailer home.) Where heater was being installed. Down hallway is where fire started. Only person there was Ms. Mullins. Service began to residence in 2001 (notes when gas sold there.) On June 1, reset the tank, did pressure test for leaks. (Tells jury how technician tests for pressure.) He has Wilbanks sign. You heard Wilbanks couldn’t read. We didn’t know that until he gave his deposition. That’s not something Pittman knew. He never told us.
Second document, shows leak check was done. Wilbanks signed it. Line was attached. Oct. 7, 100 pounds delivered. Tech is hard of hearing, but he’s trained to open bleeder line. It was a call for 100 gallons. Still want to be sure tank has pressure. It does. Why? At end of day, no leaks in the system. No reason to do anything beause the tank had pressure. We also provide warnings (he shows them document on screen.) Tells what to do if you have problems with appliances… says should get service person to do the work. But people can go and get things to do done by qualified people. Just because they make a mistake… doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified. If they decide they are qualified, Pacer-Pittman can’t prevent them from doing it. You can be qualified to do your job but you can make a mistake.
Wilbanke said he was qualified, even after the accident. Nothing they or we have said to dissuade him of that notion, to this day.
Wilbanks bring heater in. We have a program at company … in the fall, bring in an we will clean them. They do.
Day of the accident – where relevant facts are. He disconnects that line on Dec. 7. Picks up flexer. He goes home and proceeds to attach flexer. He says he checks for leaks, finds none and tried to light the heater, which he has done numerous times. He tried to light it 2-3 times. He doesn’t know why it won’t light. Means you’re not getting enough gas. He alls Pam Johnson … her memo 10 days after accident… she says he couldn’t get the heater lit. He said installed and connected, could smell the gas. (She asked questions about process.) She said to keep trying.
Now, here are heater instructions. Says the same thing. But more important – No. 5 note – about pressing control if lighting it for the first time, because may be air in the line. Like Pam Johnson told him. Gas line was disconnected. Lott never tells you Wilbanks disconnected the line… to let gas flow in with three people there. When he does that, Willingham says … don’t nobody light a cigarette. Says he knows he told Mullins.
So what does Wilbanks say … in deposition … says disconnected before called Pacer-Pittman. Why before? He said…uh, while I was on the phone and when explosion happened. But we asked him, are you sure? How doing this with phone in one hand and wrench in other hand. How are you doing this? Johnson will say explosion didn’t occur while on the phone. She hung up. Finally, Wilbanks says …. can’t remember, recall when he did what.
Our experts agree most likely Wilbanks disconnected line AFTER he called us. It’s clear why he did this… because he became impatient. He felt he was qualified to connect flexer. Instructions same. No one said to disconnect it. Willingham says he wouldn’t have disconnected it to allow gas into a home. That’s dangerous. Common sense, Willingham says that.
Everyone agrees – no accident if line isn’t disconnected to let gas in. WE tell him how to bleed the line. Testimony will say friend lights cigarette and house explodes. We have evidence … McCarren is woman in bathroom next to the bedroom. That day, she tells investigating officer … he writes statement… smoking cigarette, house blew up and I smell gas. Then she says she wasn’t smoking. I don’t mean to belittle her injuries. Wasn’t admitted to hospital, others had serious burns.
Other hand, Wilbanks told doctor to determine if he was competent to make medical and financial decisions. He told her … I was bleeding gas into the house, a friend came in and lit a cigarette and blew the house up. Three years later, he says he heard that from a nurse or somebody. How does that tie in to Mullins?
Wilbanks and Willingham near the heater. Fire comes from hallway or back bedroom. Mullins is down there or back there. She has burns to hands, face and throat. We say consistent with somebody lighting a cigarette. We have expert, an engineer. They eliminate all other sources of ignition. No one says they flipped a switch. Only possibility is static electricity, one says. But Wilbanks says friend lit cigarette. Three people there said they didn’t. Fire starts down hallway. We think evidence shows she did it. No one says Mullins mean to do this. But as you know… cigarettes are an addiction. She was lifelong smoker, almost a matter of habit to light one. Simply, lit it.
Now, here again… (shows floor layout) … Willingham says fire comes from down hallway but tried to put point of origin at heater in living room.
Other basics. (Talk about the gas tank, temperatures … to calculate pressure from the tank.) Liquid propane is condensed in tank. It expands greatly when it gets into the atmosphere. Need cavity into the tank for vapor. Affects the volume. Or irregularities in the gauge, not 100 percent accurate. (Talks about contents of the tank.) Even if he had line open for 5 minutes … losing less than 1.8 gallons. Still have 8-10 gals propane used before. Wilbanks said immediately after explosion he turns off manual shut-off valve. No gas can flow. No leaks in system. Why important?
Tells us there can’t be any air in the tank. They have no explanation for 10 gallons gone. (He’s talking levels of gas and how big can make explosions.) Gas must have odorant.
Chemist will tell you … that detectant even with small amount is very high. (Shows policies about what to do if you smell gas.) Some people can’t smell, for various medical reasons and might affect detection. We tell them what kind of detector to get. They did not do this. You now not to let gas in the house. WE tell them what propane gas is an to get qualified people to work on it. But we can’t make them.
He was trying to light an appliance. He didn’t say he can’t do it.
Different between pressure testing and leak testing. Leak testing is after service interruption. What Butler did on June 1. They say we should purge. This is kind of technical … we say it only applies to 2 1/2 inches or bigger line. This line is much smaller. Not required, the handbook says. We’ll have experts. We want to offer help but not required by code.WE gave them written warranty on ticket, brochure … ultimately he knew he had a dangerous situation. He also had warning on the heater.
We do not dispute that Ms. Mullins died form this accident. Don’t know why Lott suggests that. WE asked questions about that care for your to consider. Do not dispute that she suffered from this accident. That is pure fantasy. Our doctor… says consistent with someone lighting a cigarette. Don’t dispute that she was suffering. This is a tragedy. But it began and ended when he disconnected that gas line. Instead of saying get out of the house, or to call gas company again… he made what we all believe was a really bad decision. Gas company would have told him not to do that. It all begins and ends on that first day. He chose to do that because he was impatient. Use your common sense.
11:16 a.m. – QUICK LEG STRETCH. (CASEY LOTT will be questioner unless state otherwise.)
LOTT – Call Joe Butler as adverse witness.
BUTLER – Lives in Selmer, TN. Pacer-Pittman employee. Company has new name just Pittman Propane. Worked there about 23 years, under three owners. Service technician, put in tank, running service lines, works on heaters etc. Driver delivers the tank. We install tank and run lines.
(Lott shows document. You went to Wilbanks home to re-connect tank after flood?) Yes. (Paperwork?) Yes. June 1, 2010. Says connected tank and leak-check system. (How to do that?) …. Butler explains how that’s done … Top of regulator has a plug, insert a gauge in there and will pressurize gauge. Open bleed valve and wait for readings. (Checking lines for leaks?) Yes. (Say service call.) Notes bill says 20 inches of copper and connections. (Where was line severed?) Within the 20 inches. From regulator on tank. (Above ground?) Yes. (Pit tail?) Connects from service value to end of regulator. (Lott gets drawing that shows tank and the various parts associated with connecting service.) Connection makes a loop.
(Regulator?) Reduces the pressure in the tank, depends on temperature outside. (Replaced pig tail and regulator and 20 inches of pipe to the ground?) Correct. (Introduces drawing as P131, into evidence without objection.) (Shows him Exhibit 5… document, Propane System Check. Your handwriting?) Yes, my signature. After re-set tank on June 1. (No appliance checks that day?) No sir, I did not enter the house that day. (Also has Wilbanks’ signature?) Yes. (Talked to him?) Yes. (Remember conversation?) NO, just casual conversations. (Warning in fine print at bottom?) Yes sir. (Say client knows how to deal with propane gas, received safety reg?) I try to do that. Can’t say if I read it to Mr. Wilbanks that day. No recollection. (Offers P5 into evidence, without objection.)
(Familiar with NFPA54?) Rules for propane companies. (Does it apply to the customer?) OBJECTION – SUSTAINED. (You know MS has adopted it … to require propane companies to follow?) Yes. (Does it require purging air out of lines after interruptions?) That I have to? No sir, never read that I have to purge the air out of the line. (P81 – no objection … recognize it?) Yes. (National Fuel Gas Code Handbook, 2009?) Yes. In effect at time of explosion. Publish new every three years. (Directs him to Section 8.24 – placing appliances and equipment… whenever service disconnected?) Correct. (Was tank out of gas that day?) Yes. (8.2.4 – out of gas is interruption?) Yes. (placing appliances into operation? You didn’t do that that day?) No sir. (Says … tested and purged?) Yes. (Another rule 8.2.3 … Placing into Operation …about piping. Purging with inert gas?) Inert gas won’t burn, propane would. That would be a danger. (Shows nominal pipe sizes … larger than 3 inches, must use inert gas?) Right. (This system wasn’t that large, so use regular gas?) Yes.
(Section 8.3.4 – placing appliances and equipment… to purge as necessary?) Yes. (On date of this incident, June 1, interruption?) Yes. (Code says must purge equipment when put in service?) I didn’t do that, the tank was out of gas. (Did you know about gas delivery in October?) No. (Do you know he said tank wasn’t out of gas? Oct. 7, 2010?) He said it wasn’t out of gas. (Any other deliveries?) Have no idea.
(Let’s talk about that … P24 … delivery history… admitted. REcognize this?) No sir. (Delivery history to Jerry Wilbanks’ residence. Assume it is accurate.) Delivery Oct. 7 … I don’t know who delivered the gas, I don’t know what date. (Before that was January 2005. 100 gallons, more than 5 years before need more. Assuming no gas delivery between June and October… one of you has to be wrong about whether tank was out of gas?) It was out when I was there? I pressurized the system. (Why did you have to use the bottle off your truck?) No pressure in the tank. Checked it that day. I don’t get bottle off truck unless tank is out of gas. I don’t know what method I used that day. I would have seen if it was out, then got bottle. (Gauge said Zero percent full?) Yes. (Work order says Zero percent?) Yes. (You would ahve check another way to be sure?) Yes.
(So you got portable cylinder to check?) Yes. [He explains to jury how he uses a cylinder… portable tank hooked up… he shows them with drawing, how it checks.] (Could you have taken that cylinder inside house and purged the lines?) Yes. But you’re right back where you were. (So next guy who delivers gas, had to perform same check?) Yes. (So he should have gone into house to check appliances?) No. (Familiar with employee training?) Yes. (Reliable?) Yes. (P28 into evidence… to show jury. Pittman Propane’s Hazard Communication Program and Safety Procedures.?) Yes. (See 2 policies … gas leak checks for interruption, and also out of gas policy and procedure?) Yes.
(Reads policy … only trained personnel to conduct leak checks. You had this training?) Yes. (Know if Dept. of INsurance regulates propane?) Yes. No … ask it again. Confusing me. (Explains again, MS Dept. of INsurance … how relates to propane gas in Mississippi?) They want to make sure company takes all these tests or ? (Do you know John Gamble?) Yes. (Insurance employee?) Yes. (Checks paperwork for compliance with law?) Yes. (Let’s talk about … P92 … recognize it?) (Know it’s training … you’e had it?) Yes. (What it reflects?) Yes. (Offers P92…. McCoy wants to ask question… is this program you’ve been trained on?… yes sir… no objection. Submitted)
(Lott shows him P92 Purging Vapor Distribution Lines & Appliances…. defines purging.. required prior to placing propane appliances into service? Agree?) Yes sir. (Reasons to purge… distribution lines and appliances …. when systems are shut down or interrupted?) Yes sir. (Modified system when replaced tubing?) Yes. (Flood?) Yes. (Service interruptions?) Yes. (Removing air and inert gas … because cause difficulty lighting pilots and others?) Yes. (More reasons to purge … how do you purge air from the tank?) Use the bleed valve… lets air out. (Purge buried distribution line …how do that?) Explains how to do that.
11:56 – JUDGE – Let’s recess for lunch. Recess until 1:30 p.m.
• • •

Click video to hear audio