A Westchester contractor cited for a construction error that led to a natural gas explosion that destroyed one and damaged others pleaded guilty today to reckless endangerment.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe also said the contracting company itself, FGC Communications, has pleaded guilty to first-degree assault.
“This incident is particularly disturbing because it could have been prevented," Zubige said. "By violating applicable regulations and industry standards, these defendants nearly caused the deaths of four people and left several families homeless. Their careless and short-sighted decisions had the potential to cause serious loss of life.”
Fidel Padilla, 53, of 97 Croton Ave., Cortlandt Manor, pleaded guilty to first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony. The company, also of 97 Croton Avenue, Cortlandt Manor, pleaded guilty to assault separately.
Padilla, a general contractor who conducts his business under the corporate name of FGC Communications Inc., was hired by a subcontractor to install a two-inch conduit at the Fairgrounds II condiminum complex in the Village of West Haverstraw, just off Route 9W. The conduit was for the installation of Verizon Fios fiberoptic cable.
Over several days, the conduit was installed throughout much of the complex without incident. On Jan. 16, at about 12:15 p.m., the contractor excavated under Zariello Lane using a pneumatic device called a “mole” or “missile” that is used to clear an underground path without having to rip up the surface.
However, the device struck an Orange and Rockland Utilities gas main. This in turn triggered a gas leak and explosion that destroyed the condo unit at 52 Zariello Lane and seriously damaged several other nearby homes.
West Haverstraw volunteer firefighters who were in the process of evacuating the neighborhood were blown off their feet by the blast – along with two Orange and Rockland workers who were there. O&R said the efforts of the utility's workers to shut off a key gas valve after the explosion prevented other possible explosions.
No one was home at the time of the blast.
“Today’s plea agreement not only holds these defendants accountable for their conduct, but also sends a message to the construction industry: those who knowingly risk the public’s safety - to save time or money - will face justice,” Zugibe said.
The charges filed after the explosion resulted from an investigation conducted by the Haverstraw Police Department and the Rockland County Special Investigations Unit. Padilla and FGC Communications Inc. were arraigned and pled guilty in Rockland County Court before the Judge Charles Apotheker.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 27.