Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

Teen charged in Tampa ammonia pipeline leak

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TAMPA — Six months after an ammonia pipeline leak forced hundreds from their Riverview homes, state prosecutors have charged a juvenile with crimes related to the incident.

Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi would not give any details about the nature of the charge or the teen because of his age. She would only confirm on Tuesday that charges had been filed.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies last year said the chaotic Nov. 12 incident was caused by a 16-year-old who drilled into the pipe under the Alafia River bridge at U.S. 301 looking for hidden treasure that wasn't there.

It took workers almost two days to completely cap the gas leak and lift the evacuation order imposed on hundreds of area residents.

Sheriff's officials declined to comment on the latest developments Tuesday, referring all questions to the State Attorney's Office.

The 16-year-old suffered chemical burns over 18 percent of his body after piercing an 8-foot section of above-ground pipeline owned by Tampa Pipeline Corp. Officials would not speak to the extent of his injuries now.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, blamed the company last year for failing to secure the line after a similar incident in 2003.

On Tuesday she said that while the juvenile shares responsibility for his actions, she doesn't expect charges against him to be very severe: "There probably wouldn't be anything worse you could do to him than to burn him," she said.

At the time of the accident, authorities reported the 16-year-old was with two other teenagers when he drilled a small hole into the pipeline, after hearing someone had buried money there.

Though there was initial speculation that the teen might have been tapping the pipe to try to steal ammonia to make methamphetamine, deputies finally determined their motivation was not drugs but money.

Vanessa Fellion, 27, of Riverview told the St. Petersburg Times afterward that the tale of hidden loot originated with her brother, Robert Fellion, who committed suicide at 28, but told her before he died to look under the U.S. 301 bridge at the Alafia River if she ever needed anything.

Fellion said she didn't believe his claim of treasure, but she mentioned it to her son and her son's friend one day while driving across the bridge. And that's when legend became nightmare.

Times staff writers Colleen Jenkins and Abbie VanSickle contributed to this report.

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