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FF12: Who's investigating deadly gas explosion?

By Lauren Seabrook, lseabrook@kwch.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 09:52:24 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 17 2014 10:58:39 PM CDT
TOPEKA, Kan. -

New photos obtained by Eyewitness News show the intense moments just after a gas explosion leveled a home in western Kansas last month, killing three members of the same family.

It happened in Plymell, Kan. near Garden City, about a quarter-mile east of Highway 83 June 28.

Spencer Unruh, 17, died in the blast. His mother, Kelly Unruh, and a 14-year-old brother, Riley Unruh, were flown to Wichita for treatment. Riley died from his injuries July 9. Via Christi hospital officials confirmed Tuesday Kelly had passed away.

FactFinder 12 Investigator Lauren Seabrook has been asking questions for weeks and requesting documents and emails through the Kansas Open Records Act. What we found even surprised us.

When asked about the investigation, the Garden City Fire Department and Midwest Energy referred FactFinder 12 to the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office, stating it was the lead agency on the investigation. Now, less than three weeks after the blast, the state investigation is closed.

Doug Jorgensen, State Fire Marshal, said once events are determined to be an accident, his office stops its investigation. Officials ruled the explosion at the Unruh's home an accident within 24 hours of the blast.

"I can see where they might be surprised, but I want to assure them it's not our agency, or the Garden City fire department, or the sheriff's office out there not doing their job or following through with their responsibility," Jorgensen said.

So who is investigating what really happened? Who is finding out where the gas leak was, what caused the leak, if odor was ever added to the gas, and if the family reported an odor? Jorgensen said that is the insurance company's responsibility.

FactFinder 12 asked if there should be an unbiased agency investigating for the family.

"That's a good question and I'm not sure," Jorgensen said. "Because again, we're sort of tied to statute rules and regulations."

From our check, it appears the only current investigation into the explosion is being conducted by the property owner's insurance company.

So if the State Fire Marshal's Office is not responsible for keeping track of problems or patterns, who is holding gas companies accountable?

"I'm not sure where the responsibility falls, at the state or even at the federal level,"  Jorgensen said.

There are still a lot of questions about what happened the night of the explosion. Expect FactFinder 12 to continue searching for those answers.

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