The family of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, the Lawrence teen killed in September 2018 when a series of gas fires and explosions erupted in the Merrimack Valley, has settled its wrongful death lawsuit with Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, the utility said Tuesday.
Settlement terms are confidential, and the pact was the result of “voluntary mediation between the parties,” the company said in a statement.
Rondon, a student at Phoenix Charter Academy in Lawrence, died Sept. 13, 2018, after a chimney from a house that exploded toppled onto the vehicle he was sitting in at a friend’s house on Chickering Road.
“He was only 18 years old and full of life,” said Doug Sheff, a lawyer for Rondon’s family, in the statement released by Columbia Gas. “He loved science and had a passion for music. He dreamt of going to college and cared for his family members in every way possible. His mother, Rosaly, described Leonel as ‘the happiness of the house.’ ”
Sheff said Rondon’s relatives “can only hope that this kind of catastrophe will never happen again. Nothing can replace the loss of Leonel and the Rondons will continue to cherish his memory, his loving support and positive impact on his family and community. Sheff Law will establish a scholarship fund designed to encourage an ongoing interest in public safety and community service.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, Sheff said he would offer further comment during a news conference Wednesday morning. Rondon’s family is expected to attend, Sheff said.
Joe Hamrock, chief executive officer and president of NiSource Inc., parent company of Columbia Gas, also responded to the settlement news Tuesday.
“We remain heartbroken over the tragic loss of Leonel Rondon and again express our deepest sympathy to his family and to the entire community,” Hamrock said in the release. “We recognize the pain that remains and understand that nothing we can ever say or do will bring Leonel back to his loved ones or erase that pain. Since this tragic event, we have always wanted to do the right thing for the Rondon family and all of those affected, and we are pleased to have reached this settlement. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the Rondon family to honor Leonel through a scholarship fund, and we will continue to honor his memory.”
The company said it will launch a scholarship fund in Rondon’s name, independent of the settlement reached with his family.
Two dozen people were injured in the Sept. 13, 2018, blasts. Five homes exploded, and 125 structures were damaged by fire. Thousands of residents across Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover went without heat or hot water for weeks during the onset of cold weather, forced to live in hotels and portable trailers as crews worked to repair the gas system. Some braved the dropping temperatures, cooking on hot plates and warming parts of their homes with space heaters.
Additional lawsuits remain pending.