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Lawrence family that lost home in explosions files lawsuit against Columbia Gas

All that remains of the Figueroa family home on Chickering Street in South Lawrence.
All that remains of the Figueroa family home on Chickering Street in South Lawrence.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

LAWRENCE — A family that suffered serious injuries and lost their home because of a gas explosion that killed a Lawrence teenager Sept. 13 is suing Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.

Socrates De La Cruz, the attorney representing Omayra Figueroa and her children, announced the lawsuit Thursday at a press conference in front of Essex County Superior Court on Thursday.

De La Cruz said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Figueroa’s family “for the substantial personal injury and profound pain and suffering they are experiencing because of the gross negligence of Columbia Gas.”

“This family will never be the same,” he added.

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Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, issued a statement responding to the lawsuit: “We are heartbroken about the family’s loss and will continue to do what we can to help them at this terribly difficult time.”

De La Cruz described the events of Sept. 13, when gas explosions and fires ripped through Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, as a “horrific tragedy” that should have never happened.

“This tragedy was preventable, and it should have been prevented,” De La Cruz said.

More than 80 gas fires and explosions were reported in the three Merrimack Valley communities that day, leaving dozens injured and thousands of residents without gas heat and hot water. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the disaster, which is believed to have occurred when there was higher-than-normal gas pressure in the underground pipes.

De La Cruz said Omayra’s daughter, Shakira, was in the house on Chickering Road in Lawrence when it exploded and suffered “extremely extensive” injuries to her lower body. She has undergone three surgeries and is “going through a fourth,” he said.

Omayra’s son, Christian, was sitting in a car in their driveway that was crushed by a falling chimney and suffered fractures to his pelvis, among other injuries, and his ear was “mangled,” De La Cruz said. His friend, 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, was killed.

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“We are in mourning with the Rondon family,” De La Cruz said.

The lawsuit details the harrowing ordeal that unfolded at Figueroa’s home on Sept 13. Omayra Figueroa was at home with her children, Shakira, Christian, and Sergio at the time.

Omayra and Shakira were inside the house, and Christian and Sergio were outside sitting in the car when the initial explosion occurred, the lawsuit states.

“Immediately after the first explosion a second and more powerful explosion threw Omayra Figueroa across her house,” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Figueroa tried to leave the home, but the hallway was no longer located where it had been before the explosions. Ms. Figueroa heard her daughter, Shakira, crying out for help.

Ms. Figueroa shouted to Shakira to jump out of a window, but Shakira responded that she could not feel her legs and could not move.”

The lawsuit states that Figueroa climbed over and under debris until she reached her daughter.

“Shakira’s face was the only part of her that remained visible; the rest of her body was buried under the rubble from the explosion,” the lawsuit states.

Shakira had to be rescued by first responders and suffered “catastrophic crushing injuries to her pelvis and legs, resulting in her bones being shattered into multiple pieces, and she will require years of physical therapy to restore function, if it can be restored at all,” the lawsuit states.

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Christian injured his foot and ear and suffered four fractures to his pelvis. Sergio suffered damage to his lungs, and the whole family is suffering from “severe post-traumatic stress disorder and emotional trauma,” according to the lawsuit.

Figueroa’s home at 35 Chickering Road was destroyed by the blast, as were all of the family’s belongings, the lawsuit states. “That house meant everything to that family,” De La Cruz said.

In the initial days after the explosion, the family was “couch-surfing,” and now they’re staying in a hotel, according to De La Cruz.

“Right now they’re homeless,” he said. “That’s the status of the family right now.”


Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.