February 20, 2013

Family mourns Bath explosion victim; lawsuit possible

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BATH — They cried and raised their eyes up in prayer, recalling the warm-hearted woman who for the past two years cooked community meals in a church kitchen as a way of giving back.

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Mikey Epperson, 16, of New London, Conn., composes himself at a memorial service for his grandmother, Dale Fussell, at the United Church of Christ on Congress Avenue in Bath Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Fussell was killed Tuesday, Feb. 12, in a propane explosion at her Bluff Road duplex.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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A family photo of Dale Fussell, 64, taken around 2010.

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More than 150 community members, friends and relatives of Dale Fussell retold stories of the time they spent with the 64-year-old grandmother, in the same hall at the United Church of Christ in Bath where she helped serve the needy.

"She liked being part of something, and we loved that she was part of that something, too," said Patti Silva, a friend of Fussell and manager of the UCC kitchen, during an emotional 45-minute service.

Fussell was killed in a fiery explosion that leveled her Bluff Road duplex Feb. 12, a blast that fire investigators have attributed to a propane leak. An attorney hired by her family to pursue possible litigation against the managers and owners of the apartment complex said she had been having problems with the propane heater in her apartment for several months.

Silva said before the memorial service that Fussell had complained of a severe headache as long as a month ago, saying she smelled gas inside her home. Days before the explosion, Fussell apparently told her brother about problems with her heater, according to the attorney, Terry Garmey.

Fire investigators believe a gas coupling between the exterior supply pipe and an interior hose that fed the heating unit was the source of the leak, allowing the heavy gas to leak and accumulate before a spark apparently ignited it. Propane is heavier than air and can accumulate in enclosed spaces.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said last week there was no way to know how long the propane gas may have accumulated.

Garmey said he met with Fussell's family Tuesday and has provided a notice of claim to EWT LLC 7, the building's owner, and Keystone Management Co., both of Concord, N.H., and Irving Oil of Portsmouth, N.H., which supplies the gas. The notice is the first step toward taking legal action.

A person who answered the phone at Keystone's office declined to comment. Several messages for comment left Tuesday for the owner of EWT LLC 7, listed in New Hampshire corporate records as Eaton W. Tarbell Jr., and a spokesman for Irving Oil, were not returned.

The propane heating system for the Atlantic Townhouse Apartments where Fussell lived was installed in 2000, when Keystone Management Co. took over management of the 144 units.

Garmey said the state caps the amount that a court may award for such a death at $500,000, but by filing the notice with the companies this week, the clock starts to run on interest that could accrue from any future monetary settlement.

"The suspicion is that this was avoidable," said Garmey. "Usually in my experience, (in) explosions and carbon monoxide cases, usually there is a trail of concerning events that are disregarded."

Garmey said he has spoken with family members and friends of Fussell who said that as early as last summer, she told them about having trouble with her gas service and had been warned not to use the air conditioner or a fan because of a problem with the propane. Garmey said he didn't know who had warned her not to use the appliances.

Two days before the blast, Garmey said Fussell had told her brother she was having problems with the heater. He said he was told by two family members that on the night before she was killed, someone performed work on the heater after Fussell complained twice to apartment managers.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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What remains of the duplex at 31-29 Bluff road, following a suspected propane gas explosion on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. The explosion claimed the life of 64-year-old Dale Fussell.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer:

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Mikey Epperson, 16, of New London, Conn., at left, is comforted by Sondra Wilson of Virginia, at right, before the start of a memorial service for Epperson's grandmother and Wilson's mother, Dale Fussell, 64, at the United Church of Christ on Congress Avenue in Bath Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Fussell was killed Tuesday, Feb. 12, in a propane explosion at her Bluff Road duplex.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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The scene shortly after a propane explosion leveled the duplex at 31-29 Bluff Road.

Photo by Debra Prindall

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Family members and community members gathered at the United Church of Christ on Congress Avenue in Bath on Tuesday to honor Dale Fussell, 64, of Bath, who was killed on Feb. 12 in a propane explosion at her Bluff Road duplex.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

About 150 people packed into the United Church of Christ on Congress Avenue in Bath on Tuesday to honor Dale Fussell, 64, who was killed Feb. 12 in a propane explosion at her Bluff Road duplex.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

 


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