(PNJ.com) - A natural gas release caused the deadly explosion that killed two people and injured 184 more at the Escambia County Central Booking and Detention Facility last week, authorities have announced.
Multiple inmates reported they smelled gas in the jail prior to the April 30 explosion that killed inmates Robert Earl Simmons and David Paul Weinstein and paralyzed correctional officer Christopher Hankinson from the waist down.
Although officials have confirmed the source of the blast, the investigation of how the gas release occurred and whether jail officials responded to it appropriately continues.
"The on-scene phase of our investigation may be complete, but there is still much to be learned," Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater said in a written statement. "Our investigators will continue to work day and night with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the State Attorney's Office to uncover all of the answers victims and their families deserve to know."
State Attorney Bill Eddins told the Associated Press that it was possible criminal negligence charges could be filed against jail officials if they knew about the gas leak and failed to act.
Eddins said on Friday that it was far too early to speculate on whether charges are appropriate, or whether any potential charges might be leveled at jail administration, individual correctional officers or both.
"The purpose of the investigation is to find out what the exact facts of what steps were taken to protect the inmates," Eddins said. "The investigation is to consider all aspects of the event, so that the general public will know exactly what occurred."
Officials from the ATF and State Fire Marshal's Office concluded their on-site investigation of the jail after the building deteriorated to a point where it was no longer safe to enter.
The organizations returned custody of the facility to Escambia County on Thursday. County spokesman Bill Pearson said the jail will be fenced off, and no decisions will be made about the building's future until it is assessed by a structural engineer.
In the days after the explosion, Pensacola Energy issued a statement saying the "gas main leading to the building is operating in a safe and effective manner," implying the problem gas source was inside the jail.
The State Fire Marshal's Office will release a full report of their findings at the conclusion of the investigation. The is no estimated timetable for the investigation's conclusion.