Metro

Family of late North Andover man says he suffered cardiac arrest, slipped into coma after Merrimack Valley evacuations

Courtesy photo
A screenshot of a news report from the evacuation center at North Andover High School showed Kenneth DeVeau as he arrived in the center.

The attorney for the family of a late North Andover man said he suffered cardiac arrest and then slipped into a coma that led to his death after he was evacuated from his home as explosions and fires rocked the Merrimack Valley on Sept. 13.

Marc Breakstone, a Boston lawyer representing Kenneth DeVeau’s estate, said DeVeau, who had numerous health problems, was brought to an evacuation center, the stress and chaos of which caused him to go into cardiac arrest.

DeVeau was taken to Lawrence General Hospital after he went into cardiac arrest on Sept. 14. There, he slipped into a coma. He never regained consciousness. The 57-year-old died on Sept. 26, said Breakstone.

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Now, DeVeau’s family plans to sue Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for wrongful death and gross negligence, said Breakstone.

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Breakstone said DeVeau had a neurological condition that limited his mobility, and that DeVeau had to activate a medical alert bracelet to get evacuated. An obituary for DeVeau said he had multiple health complications, including a form of muscular dystrophy and a weakened heart.

“He did not have the ability to evacuate himself,” Breakstone said.

His sister, Barbara Hubbard, had wanted DeVeau taken to a hospital to avoid the tumult of the evacuation center, but the ambulance crew that picked him up said he wasn’t being taken to the hospital because he didn’t have “an emergency medical condition,” said Breakstone.

Breakstone said the estate will seek punitive damages in its suit.

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Dean Lieberman, a Columbia Gas spokesman, said in a statement Thursday night, “Our hearts go out to the family of Kenneth DeVeau. We’re not going to comment on potential or pending litigation.”

In a preliminary report released Oct. 11, investigators said Columbia Gas of Massachusetts failed to relocate an underground pressure sensor from an abandoned pipe during construction work in Lawrence in September, triggering a gush of gas into the local network that erupted into explosions and fires.

Such findings point to “gross negligence,” said Breakstone.

WGBH first reported the news of the family’s plans to sue.

Before the suit is filed, Hubbard, DeVeau’s sister, has to be appointed the personal representative of DeVeau’s estate, said Breakstone.

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“It will probably take four or five months, that’s about how long it usually takes,” he said. “Once she is appointed, we will file suit.”

In addition to the planned DeVeau suit, the family of Leonel Rondon, the 18-year-old from Lawrence who died Sept. 13 after a chimney from a house that exploded toppled onto the vehicle he was sitting in at a friend’s house on Chickering Road, announced in October they intended to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. That suit has yet to be filed, said the family’s attorney, Doug Sheff, Thursday night.

In documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, NiSource Inc., the parent company of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, stated, “We also have received notice from two parties indicating an intent to assert wrongful death claims.”

It didn’t take long for Columbia Gas to find itself enmeshed in litigation following the Merrimack Valley explosions and fires. In September, a lawsuit claiming negligence was filed on behalf of Juana P. Maali and Homayoun Maali, whose home on Chester Street in Lawrence was damaged by an explosion.

Another lawsuit was filed that month on behalf of Lawrence resident Francely Acosta, who was evacuated from her home on Salem Street following the blasts and was not allowed to return until three days later.

NiSource has estimated that the Sept. 13 incident could potentially cost the company more than $800 million. The company has also confirmed that it is under criminal investigation by the US attorney’s office in Boston.

Matt Rocheleau, Milton J. Valencia, and Laura Crimaldi of Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.