Story by Connor Jaschen, Editor-in-Chief, and Collin Morris, News Editor
A groundskeeper struck a natural gas regulator with a mower just hours before the explosion of James H. Richmond Residential College, according to official statements received from Murray State University.
Spokesman for the Kentucky State Police, Jody Cash, said the explosion was caused by a natural gas leak.
The following events were based off statements made by several Murray State employees, all documented by University officials on June 28, the day of the explosion. The Murray State News obtained the documents through an Open Records Request.
According to the statements, a groundskeeper reported the regulator collision to another Murray State employee at approximately 10:05 a.m. on June 28. Footage taken from security cameras in the area obtained by WPSD Local 6 show mowing crews stopped working at around 10 a.m.
A Murray State employee went to the site and powered down gas service at 10:40 a.m., according to statements from the employee. The documents state the employee contacted “Murray City Gas utilities,” to change the regulator.
Natural gas services are routinely handled by Murray Natural Gas, which supplies gas services to the city of Murray, according to its website. It is unclear if this is the office the employee contacted at that time.
According to the employee’s statement, the regulator was then replaced by a city employee and gas service was restored at 12:15 p.m. A ‘soaping’ test was then performed.
‘Soaping’ is a common method for testing suspected leaks. The process includes spraying or wetting the damaged device with soapy water. If bubbles form, a leak is evident.
With the regulator replaced and the leak test performed, the site was declared safe and operations returned to normal, according to reports.
At 4:53 p.m., an explosion damaged two floors of Richmond College and several surrounding buildings. Former Residential Director Dakota Fields was inside the building during the explosion. Fields was hospitalized briefly in Murray-Calloway County Hospital, before being moved to Vanderbilt for his injuries.
Adrienne King, Vice President of University Advancement, said the university’s emphasis since the explosion has been “proactive investigation,” in last Thursday’s interview with The News.
“We’ve worked with the City of Murray to have the gas lights checked in all of the residential halls and in Winslow dining,” King said.
King said she expects the investigation into the explosion to last the next several months and she does not know what caused the explosion.
The News will continue to update this story as more information is made available.