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Sun Prairie explosion

The city of Sun Prairie on Friday sued several companies over an explosion last summer in the city's downtown area caused by a gas leak.

The city of Sun Prairie filed a lawsuit Friday against two communications contractors, an underground utility locating service and a gas utility over the July 10 explosion that killed a firefighter and leveled several buildings in the city’s downtown.

The lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court, which seeks unspecified damages and costs, alleges that Bear Communications, of Lawrence, Kansas, and VC Tech, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, were negligent in failing to locate a gas service line before undertaking a project to bury fiber-optic cable for Verizon near the intersection of Main and Bristol streets.

It also alleges that Bear failed to verify whether VC Tech was licensed to do business in Wisconsin, as it was obliged to do under its city permit. Bear also failed to repay the city for costs and damages it suffered as a result of the explosion, the lawsuit states, as required under street opening permits granted by the city to Bear, which also required that Bear carry liability insurance naming the city as an insured third party.

The lawsuit also names as defendants two insurers that provided liability insurance to Bear and WE Energies of Milwaukee.

The lawsuit also charges that Indianapolis-based USIC Locating Services failed to properly mark underground utilities in the area and failed to warn VC Tech that the area was not properly marked.

On July 10, while doing horizontal-directional boring to install fiber-optic cable, a worker for VC Tech struck a gas line, causing a leak. The downtown area was evacuated but the gas was somehow ignited, causing an explosion that destroyed five buildings, damaged several others and displaced dozens of residents. Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr was killed and two other firefighters were injured.

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Abigail Barr, widow of Cory Barr, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in December against Bear, VC Tech, USIC and WE Energies. Firefighters Ryan Welch and Greg Pavlik, who were injured, sued those same companies.

In December, Sun Prairie Police Chief Patrick Anhalt said no criminal charges would be filed in the incident because no probable cause was found that a crime was committed.

Police attributed the gas leak that led to the explosion to miscommunication between utility contractors and subcontractors, which resulted in the gas line being improperly marked.

A police report stated that USIC stopped marking the pavement in the area of the project when a Bear subcontractor dropped out of the project. When VC Tech took over the work, it was told the work marking underground utilities had been finished when it had not, the report states.

Earlier this month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Bear and VC Tech the maximum of $12,934 each for failing to call a diggers hotline or utility owners to locate underground utilities before starting work.

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