Lawsuit Claims Atmos's Gas Leak Caused Oak Cliff Family's House to Blow Up Last Month

On the night of September 18, as heavy thunderstorms blew through Dallas, neighbors on West Woodin in Oak Cliff heard a "heavy, muffled boom," they told a CBS 11 crew. A small apartment behind a house -- little more than a converted, detached garage just a stone's throw from R.L. Thornton Freeway and Illinois -- had its wall blown out and was soon engulfed in flames.

Domingo Mendez, his wife and son fled from the home, all suffering severe burns. A spokesman for Dallas Fire and Rescue tells Unfair Park the apartment was struck by lightning that night, and that it started a fire. The fire, public information officer Jason Evans says, ignited the apartment's gas line.

Mendez's attorney, Domingo Garcia, says there was no lightning at the time, placing the blame instead on gas line couplings that came loose as the bone-dry soil absorbed its first significant rain in months. The gas escaped, he claims, by taking the path of least resistance -- into Mendez's home.

By the time firefighters snuffed the blaze, the place was gutted: Its corrugated tin roof collapsed, the appliances and bed frames warped in the heat, and everything else was reduced to ash.

His wife suffered third-degree burns and is still in the Parkland Hospital burn unit, Garcia says. She will need intensive medical care for the rest of her life.

Now Mendez is suing Atmos Energy for gross negligence. The complaint says "combustible natural gas was allowed to leak into his home which resulted in an explosion." Atmos, it claims, failed to inspect and "remove an unsafe gas line"; messages have been left for the gas company, which probably hasn't even seen the suit as it was filed only yesterday. Mendez is seeking unspecified damages.

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Brantley Hargrove