Pensacola, Florida (PNJ) -- An independent investigator hired by Escambia County to look at the April natural gas explosion at the Escambia County Jail said he did not find evidence of culpable negligence in the blast.
Speaking at the regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, Edward Fleming of the McDonald, Fleming and Moorhead law firm said his investigation determined the gas the inmates and corrections officers reported smelling prior to the jail explosion is not what caused the blast.
"The first thing I wanted to look at was the report of natural gas being smelled for weeks with nothing being done about it," Fleming said. "I found those accounts were not correct."
Fleming said he looked at maintenance reports for the three weeks preceding the explosion and notes from inmate complaints to medical staff. He said there was no indication of complaints of a natural gas odor before the day of the blast.
"There were two different types of gas leaks. One was a propane gas leak, which was being smelled in the hours before the explosion," he told commissioners.
According to Fleming, additives in the propane gave it an odor, and it was a distinctly different odor than that of natural gas.
Fleming said a maintenance worker checked the flooded basement on the day of the explosion and did not locate a natural gas leak. He said the employee then followed the smell of gas outside to a leaking propane tank and repaired the leak.
The smell from the propane lingered throughout the day and made its way into the jail, according to Fleming.
Fleming said his theory is that natural gas dryers in the basement of the jail floated upward on floodwaters, causing the still-active gas lines to disconnect from the machines and spew into the basement.
"When the water started receding ... to a point that the natural gas that collected there could exit the door and find a point of ignition, it acted like a fuse to a bomb and it blew up the building," he said.
The independent investigation contracted by the county is not connected with an investigation being conducted by the State Fire Marshal's Office, the State Attorney's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
"We may review the information they have, but we will make an independent determination," Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said.
Any criminal penalties that could potentially be filed against county staff will come as a result of that investigation. Marcille said he could not give a concrete date for the completion of the investigation, but said it was likely to conclude in the next few weeks.