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Negligence Alleged in the Capilla de Piedra Explosion

By Karla Ortiz

At a hearing on June 27, lawyers representing victims of the January 13 liquid petroleum (LP) gas explosion at the Capilla de Piedra residential complex won their appeal to reopen the investigation into culpability for the incident that caused widespread property damage both inside and outside the subdivision and left at least three people with serious injuries. Sandra Campillo and Sergio Barquín, lawyers for the victims, argued that, contrary to official findings by Investigative Prosecutor César Octavio Serrato Mujica, there were probable responsible parties for the explosion—the director responsible for the work and the project’s architect Juan Carlos Valdés as well as the Constructora Cuatro SMDG company, through its legal representative, Bernardo Montemayor Villareal.

In his investigation of the explosion earlier this year, Serrato Mujica determined that there was no probable cause of the LP gas leak since at the time of the explosion, the apartment where the explosion originated was unoccupied. Therefore, no one could be held culpable, he said at the time.

The explosion originated inside the complex, in Building 1, located on calle Capilla de los Reyes. Expert evidence shows that the leakage originated in the pipes inside the chimney wall of the destroyed apartments, according to the victims’ lawyers. This made it impossible for the owners to have manipulated the installations themselves, they said.

The Judge of Orality in Criminal Matters, who heard the victims’ appeal, sided with their lawyers’ argument and revoked Serrato Mujica’s original findings. The judge then ordered Serrato Mujica to carry out various proceedings to clarify the facts of the case, deciding that that the evidence against the construction manager and the construction company warrants further investigation.

In their arguments, the appeal lawyers said that the existing investigation record lacks important evidence like testimonials and expert opinions (private and official) on explosives, criminalistics, and structural construction. They also argued that the evidence shows that the LP gas leak was due to an accumulation of gas that later exploded due to incorrectly installed piping not in compliance with Mexican and ISO regulatory standards.

The lawyers also argued that the director responsible for the work and the construction company neglected to comply with rules on LP gas installations and that such noncompliance caused four apartments in the complex to collapse due to the explosion and additionally caused a blast wave that affected homes in the neighboring colony of El Atascadero. The responsible director and the construction company (as experts in the field) had the obligation to scrupulously review the plans and comply with required protocols to ensure that the facilities and building structure of the apartments were safe enough to be habitable, Campillo and Barquín said. Failure to comply with such regulations violates the human rights of all victims, they said.

The lawyers also accused both men of concealing manipulating various pieces of evidence, including official expert opinions, and said that the prosecutor’s office did not investigate the matter in depth in order to clarify the facts.

Given that all the gas pipes in the subdivision are inside walls, they pointed out that other tenants could be endangered by imperfections in other gas pipes. “To this day, there are constant warnings of gas leaks in the subdivision’s apartments’ pipes,” said lawyer Sandra Campillo. She also said that as early as November 2017, a report had already been made of a gas leak by a tenant in the residential complex. At the time, the construction company’s architect sent two plumbers to attend to the issue. The plumbers found that one of the pipe nozzles was improperly installed, but they only patched the leak and left. As a result, the smell of gas diminished but did not go away.

 

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