WASHINGTON, D.C. - On the night of Dec. 19, 2010, a home exploded in Chantilly, Va. Firefighters had received a call for a gas leak, but by the time they arrived the blast had brought the home to the ground. According to eyewitnesses, the front door landed across the street in a neighbor's yard.
The home belonged to the Nguyens, a family of four who thankfully, were out to dinner. First generation Americans, they say it represented their American dream. "Everything we built up for my whole life and it's gone," says Thuan Nguyen. "It's really tough to look at."
According to the fire marshal's report, the explosion "was most likely due to the ignition of natural gas…". A spokesman told ABC 7 News that gas leaking from a pipe in the street had migrated into the home.
Washington Gas refuses to release the results of its investigation of the accident. Larry Leeds, president of the Brookfield Civic Association, has advocated for the family and the neighborhood. "I think Washington gas is screwing around," he says, "because they don't want to pay any money. I understand that. This is all about the money."
ABC 7 News has obtained a surprising internal memo, sent during deliberations over how to address a spike of leaks in Prince George's County. It reads, "We are NOT planning on an overall leak survey since that could result in finding new leaks."
Former employees of Washington Gas have come forward to share their own recollections. "I'm concerned about the customers and general safety of the public. And I think it's been jeopardized," says William Gibson, a retired 34-year Washington Gas employee. "And I think it's all been due to, again, a lot of profiteering on behalf of the gas company."
Three former employees describe leak evaluations as loose. They say while working for the company, they found a number of so-called grade ones - the most dangerous kind. But instead of immediately fixing them, Washington Gas argued over the grade, and replaced them with someone who would lower the grade.
"(There were times) I strongly felt from all my years of experience that it's a grade one leak," says Warren Davis, a retired 36-year employee. "And I turned it in as a grade one, only to find out the next day that someone went out behind me, and ... they may say, 'well this is actually a Two.'"
If Washington Gas finds a grade one leak, the company must fix it immediately. But by grading it a two, the company may have 15 months to fix it. And documents from the Virginia State Corporation Commission show just how pervasive this practice may be.