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Peoples Gas sued after gas explosion killed USF student

The lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County.
A home exploded following a nearby gas leak late last year, killing a University of South Florida student who was visiting his parents. Pictured is the home in a photo included in a lawsuit. | [Courtesy of Frank Melton]
A home exploded following a nearby gas leak late last year, killing a University of South Florida student who was visiting his parents. Pictured is the home in a photo included in a lawsuit. | [Courtesy of Frank Melton] [ Included in lawsuit ]
Published Jun. 29

The family of a University of South Florida student killed in a gas explosion is suing Tampa Electric Co.’s sister company, Peoples Gas, over his death.

Adrian Lopez, 23, was visiting his parents in late 2020 when a contractor for Frontier Communications was drilling near their Bradenton home. While the contractor, Next Generation, drilled, it struck a buried gas line, according to the lawsuit. Next Generation is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

Peoples Gas and the local fire department arrived at the scene and determined that the gas had “migrated into the sewer line.”

“Once (Peoples Gas) became aware that gas was traveling unimpeded through the sewer line, it knew or should have known that this was an elevated threat that needed to be resolved,” the lawsuit said.

Peoples Gas spokesperson Sylvia Vega said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

The Lopez’s home was about 300 feet from the affected gas line, but the lawsuit alleges that no one took any gas readings inside of the home.

According to the lawsuit, residents around the area were told to evacuate, but the Lopezes were not. After about two-and-a-half hours of gas leaking, the Lopezes’ home exploded, blowing off the roof.

Lopez and his father, Adrian Lopez Sr., had “significant” burns from the incident, while his mother Francisca Lopez was also injured.

“Because the Lopez house was considered ‘unsafe,’” the lawsuit alleged, “the fire department and (emergency management services) personnel refused to enter the house and treat the Lopez family, which forced (them) to make their own way out of the house.”

Lopez died from his injuries in mid-January. He had been studying engineering.

The lawsuit alleges that Peoples Gas should have shut the gas off to the affected line instead of looking for the leak to fix it, shut off power to the area to prevent ignition and evacuated the entire area around the leaking pipeline.

The Lopezes are suing for damages.