LAWRECE (CBS) – On the afternoon of September 13, 2018, 18-year-old Leonel Rondon had just passed his driving test and wanted to share the good news with friends in Lawrence. He was sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV parked in a friend’s driveway when the Columbia Gas explosions began.
“I’m angry and it’s not fair,” his sister Lucianny told WBZ’s I-Team, in the family’s only interview.
That house on Chickering Road exploded and the chimney came crashing down on the vehicle. Leonel was crushed and two friends in the car were injured.
“It’s difficult for us. I always think, out of so many explosions, only my brother died. This shouldn’t happen to anyone. This is horrible, knowing that he’s not gonna call you, not gonna visit you,” Lucianny reflected.
She then translated for her heartbroken mother, Rosaly. Through tears, Rosaly said the pain is still very raw. She said Leonel was a kind, humble young man.
“I miss him.”
Leonel’s father, Miguel explained that he still waits for him at night and can’t believe he is gone. Miguel says he died that day, too.
While Leonel’s family continues to grieve, federal investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board determined the cause of the disaster stemmed from errors in a Columbia Gas engineer’s plans for pipe replacement work. The NTSB report said those errors led to the over pressurization of natural gas lines and ultimately caused the fires and explosions. The agency also pointed out several additional safety concerns and lack of state oversight.
Federal investigators are looking into the possibility of filing criminal charges against Columbia Gas.
In November, during a congressional field hearing, legislators raised questions about the company’s practices, calling them tragically deficient.
“I don’t want any other family to go through this. I don’t want any other family to feel this pain,” Lucianny said.
In July, the Rondon family settled its wrongful death lawsuit with Columbia Gas, which included a scholarship fund in Leonel’s name.
“The Rondon family has conducted itself with incredible strength, grace, and love throughout this tragic loss,” family attorney Dough Sheff said in a news conference.
Through her tears, Lucianny told us nothing can bring her brother back, but that this settlement will help keep Leonel’s memory alive.
In a statement at the time of settlement, Columbia Gas’s parent company said:
“We remain heartbroken over the tragic loss of Leonel Rondon and again express our deepest sympathy to his family and to the entire community. We recognize the pain that remains and understand that nothing we can ever say or do will bring Leonel back to his loved ones or erase that pain. Since this tragic event, we have always wanted to do the right thing for the Rondon family and all of those affected, and we are pleased to have reached this settlement. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the Rondon family to honor Leonel through a scholarship fund, and we will continue to honor his memory.”
Earlier this year, Senator Ed Markey proposed federal legislation in the Lawrence teen’s name. The Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act is moving through Congress. It would create new protocols for natural gas companies.