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Oconomowoc renter wants payback from Dorner

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

If the insurance company’s lawsuit fails, the man who rented an Oconomowoc home that blew up in an April 2008 gas explosion says he will take on Dorner Inc. himself.

“Even if it’s only $10,000 or $5,000, whatever, you know?” said Thomas Lemieux, who rented the house. “Just the simple fact of some satisfaction so I don’t look back 20 years from now and say, ‘They burned down my house and did nothing.’”

Lemieux is one of three Oconomowoc residents involved in a State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. lawsuit (PDF) against Luxemburg-based Dorner, its insurer and We Energies. In April 2008, Dorner broke an underground natural gas pipe owned by We Energies, and the leaking gas ignited, blowing up and destroying the First Baptist Church of Oconomowoc and two nearby houses.

State Farm, which insured the houses rented by Lemieux, Calvin J. Mara and James Klappa, claims Dorner and We Energies are responsible for the explosion and should pay for the damage.

According to the lawsuit, Dorner was careless when a crew used a backhoe to push down the unmarked gas line. We Energies, according to the lawsuit, should have kept accurate maps that identified the location of the pipe, which was out of service but still had gas flowing through it.

Dorner and its attorney at Acuity, A Mutual Insurance Co., Sheboygan, did not respond to telephone calls before deadline Friday.

We Energies spokeswoman Irissol Arce said the utility does not comment on pending cases. We Energies received notice of the suit July 9, and will respond to the lawsuit before the 45-day court deadline in late August, she said.

The Rev. Sam Brink, a transition pastor at First Baptist, said the congregation has not ruled out the possibility of suing over the explosion. He said members of First Baptist also are considering whether to rebuild on the original church site, renovate the church’s current home at the former Ixonia Town Hall or find a new location.

“The lawsuit comes up in the sense that people have always said, ‘You should sue,’” Brink said. “So we ask, ‘Should we sue?’”

Lemieux said he has two years left to consider filing his lawsuit against the contractor. He said first he will wait to see what happens with the State Farm case.

Lemieux and his children were moving into a house adjacent to First Baptist Church when the explosion occurred. He said he lost wedding rings from his former marriage, antique furniture, photos and his daughters’ clothes, soccer trophies and other possessions when the house burned in the explosion. The house was torn down after the fire.

Lemieux said the insurer on a house he owns paid for some of the damages. However, Lemieux, owner of Pro Coatings LLC, an Oconomowoc-based painting contractor, said he still feels wronged because Dorner did not call him immediately after the fire to offer insurance information or other help.

“I don’t like the way they handled it,” he said. “(It is) not spite. You just can’t burn your stuff up and move to the next job.”

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