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Warrant: Contractor mismarked gas line before deadly blast (UPDATE)

Part of downtown Sun Prairie lies devastated on July 11 following a massive gas-line explosion. Court documents say a contractor failed to properly mark the line. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

Part of downtown Sun Prairie lies devastated on July 11 following a massive gas-line explosion. Court documents say a contractor failed to properly mark the line. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A utility-location worker failed to properly mark a natural-gas line in Sun Prairie this summer, leading to an explosion that leveled more than half a dozen buildings and killed a firefighter, according to court documents.

A search-warrant request recently unsealed in Dane County Circuit Court states investigators are looking for evidence that would support a homicide charge in response to the death of the Sun Prairie firefighter Cory Barr.

The explosion occurred on July 10 after a subcontractor installing fiber-communication lines in an intersection in downtown Sun Prairie struck a gas main. One of the diggers called 911 to report he could smell gas in the air.

Firefighters and police rushed to the intersection and evacuated dozens of people before the gas ignited, sending a towering fireball into the night sky that burned for hours, casting the downtown in a hellish orange light. Six businesses and a home were destroyed. Barr was killed in the blast and several other emergency workers were hurt.

Investigators filed their request for a search warrant on July 19 and asked that a judge seal it to keep their progress a secret, stating that they’re looking for evidence that would bolster a charge of second-degree reckless homicide. Judge Shelley Gaylord agreed to seal the documents until Oct. 17.

An affidavit accompanying the warrant request states that an employee of USIC, a company out of Indiana that specializes in protecting utility infrastructure during excavations, failed to correctly mark the gas line on the street and instead pinpointed a spot beneath a sidewalk that was 25 feet away from the correct location.

The company refused to identify the worker without being forced to by a court order. Investigators learned his identity after one of the workers who ruptured the line overhead the worker’s first name while a supervisor was speaking to him on the phone on the day of the explosion.

Police approached the worker six days after the blast but he refused to speak to them. Investigators received a letter from his lawyer two days later saying he won’t be speaking to law-enforcement officials. The affidavit didn’t name the lawyer.

Traci Martinez, a lawyer representing USIC, and the worker didn’t immediately return voicemail messages from The Associated Press on Thursday morning. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne also didn’t immediately return a message.

Police in Sun Prairie issued a statement Thursday saying the search warrant is one component of an ongoing investigation and isn’t conclusive.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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